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MOVIES Comedian decides to don 'Mask'



Published: Tue, February 15, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Will Jamie Kennedy's latest be a big hit or a big bust?

By TERRY LAWSON

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

BIRMINGHAM, Mich. -- On one hand, "Son of the Mask" star Jamie Kennedy knows he has the opportunity to star in a brand-name sequel, playing a character unlike any he's played before. He can introduce himself to a new, family audience.

On the other, there's always the risk of "Dumb & amp; Dumberer."

"I know, I know," says Kennedy, squirming in a chair in his Birmingham hotel suite. "I thought about it a long time. But in the end, I just kept hearing this mysterious voice, saying 'Put on the mask."'

The special effects, comic book-based comedy "The Mask," about a bank clerk who becomes a wacky, shape-shifting superhero when he dons an ancient mask with supernatural power, was released 11 years ago. It was the movie that solidified the suspicion that Jim Carrey was going to be a major movie star. It cost $18 million and made $120 million at the U.S. box office alone.

Carrey, however, had about as much interest in a "Mask" sequel as he did a second chapter of "Dumb and Dumber," the hit that followed. So "Dumb and Dumberer" was made without him and was a resounding flop. Nevertheless, plans to make "Son of the Mask," which opens Friday, moved forward. And Kennedy, after much hand-wringing, signed on.

Bit parts

The star of the improv-prank TV series "The Jamie Kennedy Experiment" has been in more than 30 feature and TV movies since 1989, but aside from his role as an obsessed horror movie geek in the "Scream" trilogy, you missed him if you blinked. Do you remember Kennedy in "Romeo + Juliet " with Leonardo DiCaprio, or in "Enemy of the State" with Will Smith, or in "Three Kings" with George Clooney? Didn't think so. And don't even bother to slow down the video to catch him in "Boogie Nights." His part was cut.

Films in which Kennedy had more substantial roles, including the superhero spoof "The Specials" and the romantic comedy "Sol Goode," went straight to video. His primary legacy is 2003's "Malibu's Most Wanted. "

"You know whoever does this is going to be jumped on for not being Jim Carrey. But I read the script and thought, 'Hey, this is pretty funny,"' he says. "And it was a family comedy with a big cast and a lot of special effects and basically, I'm a cog in this gigantic wheel. I mean, my character is the straight man. Even the dog gets more gags than I do."

Kennedy plays Tim, a cartoonist who has become a reluctant father. When his dog digs up the ancient mask of Loki and brings it home -- and the baby tries it on -- things get extremely wacky and, Kennedy hopes, funny enough to entertain both the young audience at which the film is aimed and parents who remember "The Mask."

And if it doesn't?

"I can always go back to Domino's," he says.

Bigger impact

"The Jamie Kennedy Experiment," a k a "JKX," was a blend of skit humor and "Candid Camera"-style pranking, but the WB canceled it after three seasons. Now collected on DVD box sets, says Kennedy, "the show is more popular than it ever was when it was on the air." Along with hosting and acting in nearly every bit, Kennedy also served as a producer for the show and says he discovered "a completely unexpected ability to put a series together."

He has since developed and produced two more series, the first of which debuts March 4 on the WB. "Living with Fran" is a sitcom starring Fran Drescher and Ryan McPartlin as her much younger lover. Kennedy says the show, inspired by Drescher's own relationship with a younger man, was in development long before Demi met Ashton, but he "won't mind if people think otherwise, as long as they watch it."

The other series, "The Starlet" is an authentic reality show, with Vivica A. Fox and Faye Dunaway mentoring young women whose hearts are set on becoming popular actors. Kennedy promises that "Starlet" will be something different than other reality shows but says we will have to wait until next month's premiere to see how.

Meanwhile, he's hoping that people will leave their preconceptions about a "Mask" sequel that does not star Carrey at the theater door, because if they do, he says, "I think they'll have a really good time. The movie is just a lot of fun, really."

While he says he has a couple good feature roles pending while Hollywood waits to see how "Son of the Mask" is received, he's not holding his breath for "Return of Son of the Mask."

"I'll just be relieved if we get away with this one."




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