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"THE MASTER OF DISGUISE"
(2002) (Dana Carvey, Jennifer Esposito) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A young man discovers that he's a master of disguises and must use that talent to rescue his parents from a nefarious criminal.
PLOT:
Pistachio Disguisey (DANA CARVEY) is a young and amiable man with a knack for mimicry who works as a waiter at the Italian restaurant run by his father, Frabbrizio (JAMES BROLIN). Although his imitations of people sometimes get out of hand, he's a good-natured sort who befriends Barney Baker (AUSTIN WOLFF), a local klutzy boy, and hopes that one day he might marry Sophia (MARIA CANALS), a woman with a large posterior that reminds him of his mother (EDIE McCLURG).

Unbeknownst to Pistachio, his father is a former master of disguises who decades ago foiled the attempts of criminal mastermind Devlin Bowman (BRENT SPINER) and sent him to prison for twenty years. Now wanting his revenge, Bowman kidnaps Pistachio's parents with the goal of using Frabbrizio to steal the world's most precious treasures while disguised as famous people.

Unsure of what to do, Pistachio receives a visit by his grandfather (HAROLD GOULD) who's also a former master of disguises. Grandpa Disguisey informs Pistachio of his heritage and then sets out to train the young man in the way of disguises as well as "Energico," a channeling force that will allow him to transform completely into any number of identities.

With the aid of his assistant, Barney's mother Jennifer (JENNIFER ESPOSITO), Pistachio sets out to rescue his parents from Bowman's clutches, all while using a wide variety of disguises to do so.

OUR TAKE: 1 out of 10
As a kid growing up in the '60s and '70s, one of my favorite people to watch on TV was impressionist Rich Little. That, of course, was due to his uncannily accurate impressions of real life celebrities and politicians. Many have since followed in his path, but few have achieved the same the same level of precision as he did.

Granted, there are many who do impressions and are quite funny, but more often than not their mimicry is more caricature than an accurate reproduction of the real thing. Among them is Dana Carvey who made a name for himself during his eight-year stint on TV's "Saturday Night Live." It was there that he started doing funny caricatures of President Bush, Ross Perot and Johnny Carson, while also creating memorable original characters such as the Church Lady, bodybuilder Hans and, of course, Garth Algar.

While he brought that last character to the big screen in the two "Wayne's World" movies, he never quite successfully transitioned over to the movie world, especially not in comparison to his "WW" co-star Mike Myers. In fact, Carvey hasn't had a starring role since the 1994 flop "Trapped In Paradise," although part of that absence was due to health issues and a botched operation.

In choosing and fashioning his "comeback" film, Carvey and co-screenwriter Harris Goldberg ("Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo," "I'll Be Home For Christmas") have smartly opted to play off the comedian's strength of impersonations and creating a variety of comical characters. Unfortunately, and unlike Myers' success doing the latter in his "Austin Powers" movies, the resultant "The Master of Disguise" is a horrific train wreck of a movie.

Although obviously designed to be a goofy comedy aimed directly at the younger set - the running gag of a villain farting whenever engaged in diabolical laughing is a dead giveaway - the film simply doesn't work, even on that level.

Not only is little if any of it remotely funny, but most everything about it is bungled to such a degree that I wasn't at all surprised when people started getting up and exiting - or was it fleeing in terror - from our preview screening. That's because most of the film's efforts at eliciting humor fail and do so in an amazingly irritating and grating fashion.

Knowing the premise of Carvey playing a variety of characters in different situations, I figured the film would be episodic at best, but this one is so fragmented that not even the lame underlying story can hold it together.

Whereas Myers' various character creations in the Powers films are essential to the plot and mostly come off as quite detailed, imaginative and often incredibly funny on their own, the same can't be said here. Beyond doing a brief vocal reproduction of part of "Shrek" and a concluding bit impersonating George W. Bush, this is clearly not Carvey at his finest.

While he gets the sound right of Robert Shaw's Quint character from "Jaws," the material isn't funny after the first moment of hearing the impression, and his caricature of Al Pacino in "Scarface" is bad and goes on far too long.

Other than the grating and decidedly unfunny and unsympathetic protagonist, most of the other characters that Carvey creates are thankfully short-lived, but that doesn't necessarily make them or the film any easier to bear.

Various real-life celebrities such as track star Michael Johnson, MN Governor Jesse Ventura, pop star Jessica Simpson and actress Bo Derek show up in cameo bits where they're supposed to be actor James Brolin in disguise, but even those moments don't work and feel forced. To make matters worse, novice director Perry Andelin Blake is so uncertain of the material that he makes sure to identify the faces in a verbal fashion, but that doesn't help any.

The rest of the material is so lame - including the protagonist liking women with exaggeratedly large posteriors, a klutzy kid, the villain and his diabolical plan, etc. - that Blake - a production designer by trade and longtime collaborator on producer Adam Sandler's films - had no chance at making any of it work. Even so, it's certainly not hard to discern that this is a rookie directorial effort.

As far as the supporting performances are concerned, Jennifer Esposito ("Don't Say a Word," "Dracula 2000") is apparently present only as some cleavage-revealing eye candy and most of the time looks as pained and confused as most viewers will. Brolin ("Traffic," "The Amityville Horror") and Harold Gould ("Stuart Little," "Patch Adams") play the protagonist's father and grandfather respectively and do as good a job at butchering an Italian accent (one can only hope purposefully) as does Carvey. Meanwhile, Brent Spiner ("Out to Sea," the "Star Trek: Next Generation" films) should fire his agent or have his head examined if he willfully agreed to appear in this mess.

If repeated farting sounds, lame and disjointed comedy, and the name Pistachio Disguisey make you laugh, perhaps you'll find something redeeming here. While I can understand what everyone involved was trying to achieve and can appreciate smart "dumb comedies," this is an inane and completely bungled one that simply doesn't work and just isn't funny.

If you want to see Carvey at the top of his form, seek out some old "Saturday Night Live" reruns. On the other hand, if you want to see him at or near rock bottom, and are into masochistic movie-going, by all means check out this film (but don't say that you weren't warned). "The Master of Disguise" rates as a 1 out of 10 (and that's being quite generous).




Reviewed July 31, 2002 / Posted August 2, 2002


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