Review: Mask (2018)



Director Bobby Razak explores the life of MMA entrepreneur Charles ‘Mask’ Lewis and how the rise of his popular brand Tapout was directly tied to the growth of Mixed Martial Arts and UFC in the late 1990s.

Today, the term MMA is synonymous with UFC, the premier mixed martial arts promotion in the world. UFC’s success today stems largely from many of the larger than life personalities that it has brought to light like ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor, ‘Rowdy’ Ronda Rousey and Jon Jones. But before these personalities dominated the UFC’s boom period over the last decade, there was Charles ‘Mask’ Lewis, the brains and face behind Tapout, the dominant brand in MMA lifestyle until the late 2000’s. Lewis was killed in a tragic car crash in 2009 after being hit by a drunk driver in a Porsche. His death directly led to the end of his Tapout brand. Director Bobby Razak explores the mind behind Lewis and the rise and fall of Tapout in this intriguing documentary that makes use of the extensive amount of behind the scenes footage Lewis shot as he promoted his company and MMA in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Mask largely works in showing the behind the scenes and grass roots involved in bringing MMA and combat sports to prominence in the late 1990’s after UFC was demonized and kept off cable and PPV in the 1990’s. Back then, MMA was truly an underground subculture; a punk rock gladiatorium and Lewis’ company and drive with its ubiquitous Tap Out logo helped legitimize many underground events and helped shape the identity of the burgeoning underground sport. Razak does a great job of showing how Lewis’ introverted background helped him create the character of Mask, a larger than life ringmaster of fight culture that helped market his company and the burgeoning UFC organization that he would promote at any given opportunity. You also see the man’s background, how he started off in MMA as a San Bernardino police deputy and former marine and his passion behind the martial arts was something to which he wanted to fully devote himself.

The major fault in the documentary is towards the climax, where Razak goes more towards the road of making the film an elegy on Lewis’ legacy, and sort of glosses over the issues that Mask’s death created; a scenario where Orange County seized control of Lewis’ estate sans the presence of a last will and testament and how this led to the company being sold for an nth of its value to eventually become a small vassal of the WWE empire. Its touched on, but much like the documentary on Evil Knievel documentary Being Evel that Gravitas Ventures the distributor of this film also put out, it could have mined more from its subject matter. Mask is still an interesting perspective on a grass roots DIY entrepreneur and how perseverance can equal success if the passion behind it is real.