Son of the Mask

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When people decry the travesty of “Son of the Mask,” it is based on the supposition that “The Mask,” to which it is ostensibly a sequel, was a great film whose memory must be respected. But in fact that film was mediocre at best, being little more than an excuse for clown-man Jim Carrey to engage in his prancing and buffoonery that was, at that time (1994), just coming into vogue.

“Son of the Mask” is no better than that, except that instead of Jim Carrey’s clowning being the film’s raison d’etre, it is the sub-par mayhem of Jamie Kennedy and a computer-animated dog and baby that serve as centerpieces. The characters are just as flimsy, the plot just as contrived. But, directed by Lawrence Guterman (“Cats & Dogs”), it has moments of devilishly cartoonish whimsy.

Kennedy plays Tim Avery, an aspiring cartoonist who has a low-level job at an animation studio. He is married to Tonya (Traylor Howard — yes, I said TRAYLOR), who wants to have a baby with him. But Tim is too immature for that sort of thing, preferring to spend his hours playing GameBoy and teaching new tricks to his dog Otis. The thought of a baby terrifies him, just as the thought of someone like him fathering a baby should terrify you.

One night before going to a Halloween party, Tim puts on a wooden mask that Otis dragged home, and finds that it transforms him into an uninhibited, Id-centered madman capable of doing marvelously cartoonish things. He performs a big song-and-dance number that is supposed to be manic but that feels overworked, then comes home and has some carnal knowledge of the missus. When she gets pregnant — which she apparently discovers the very next day, which I don’t really get — the baby, having been conceived while Tim was under the influence of the mask, has all the powers of the mask.

Meanwhile, we learn the origin of the mask. It was created by Loki, the Norse god of mischief who is here played by Alan Cumming, which means he is fey and precious. Loki must retrieve his lost mask in order to stay in good graces with his father, Odin (Bob Hoskins). For real. I’m not making this up.

Anyway, Loki, being an idiot, stumbles around the world for nearly two years without any success — time enough for Tim and Tonya’s baby Alvey to be born and become about a year old, at which point he starts exhibiting signs of his mask powers. Tonya goes out of town for some reason and leaves Tim with Alvey, and Alvey gets an idea from watching cartoons: He’s going to do bizarre things when only his dad is around, so that Tim will think he’s hallucinating or going crazy. Meanwhile, Otis the dog digs up the mask, puts it on, and, jealous of the attention baby Alvey has been getting, plots to, um, destroy the baby. As in, kill him. I guess.

It becomes very cartoony at that point, and I don’t think we’re supposed to think too hard about the fact that a dog is trying to kill an infant. Otis gets a cartoon face when he has the mask on, and with Alvey dancing around and singing like the frog in that Warner Bros. cartoon (“Hello, my baby, hello, my honey, hello my rag-time gaaal!”), it’s easy enough to accept things as fanciful, not realistic.

In fact, while the movie is rather tiresome and aimless early on — Tim’s one night of mask-induced charisma makes him a hit around the office the next day, but then that story line is abandoned — it becomes fairly diverting once it settles into what it really is, i.e., a live-action cartoon. I hesitate to call the film “good,” because it’s still carelessly written, but it has bursts of semi-animated antics that may please youngsters.

C (1 hr., 26 min.; PG, some.)

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