Master of Disguise? More Like Master of Disappointment
By Teddy Durgin
tedfilm@aol.com

I just had to endure the worst film of the year (so far ... it's only August). A comedy so unfunny that it made me long for the subtle, controlled humor of Tom Green. The name of this film?

The Master of Disguise.

The return of comedian Dana Carvey to the public eye is a welcome one. He has always seemed like a decent, good-natured fellow with a gift for imitating everyone from George Bush to Regis Philbin. A few years ago, the former Saturday Night Live cast member had to go under the knife for a heart bypass operation, only the surgeon operated on the WRONG artry. Complications arose, a lawsuit ensued, and Carvey prevailed donating the settlement to charity.

Carvey survived and is in fine health today, but it's scary to think he almost died on the table. But it's not half as scary as how badly he will be dying this weekend on the big screen in the new movie, The Master of Disguise. Rarely has a more painfully unfunny comedy been unleashed into theaters. And painful is the perfect word to describe the experience. Painfully unfunny. Painfully acted. Painfully quiet. At one point, the theater I saw this in was so quiet I could actually make out the dialogue in the movie playing in the NEXT theater over! I'm not kidding. I was actually self-conscious that I was rocking in my chair too hard and the creak of the coils was disturbing those around me.

This PG-rated movie is targeted at kids, and children made up roughly 60 to 70 percent of the audience I saw this flick with. Do you know how hard it is to make a juvenile comedy where kids do NOT laugh?! And, of course, there were the usual kids breaking out into spontaneous tears, because Mommy took away their soda or Little Billy hit Little Betsy upside the head because both were bored. At one point, my friend Gus and I estimated that the ratio of children crying to laughing in that theater was quite possibly 3 to 1.

The ratio of adults crying to laughing, you ask? At least 6 to 1.

Carvey plays Pistachio Disguisey, an Italian waiter who is completely unaware that he comes from a long line of good-guy, secret-agent, Masters of Disguises. No, the name never tipped him off. OK, right away, can we spot a few things wrong with this movie? Carvey (the human equivalent of white Wonder Bread) is NOT Italian, but he goes through the whole movie with this exceedingly annoying, wimpy-guy Italian accent that grows old the very first time he opens his mouth. Second, there is the name Pistachio Disguisey. Now whenever a movie immediately resorts to trying to mine cheap laughs from a "wacky" name, it is NEVER a good sign. (Meet the Parents with Ben Stiller's Gaylord Fokker character is the exception.) Pistachio's father, Frabbrizio (played by non-Italian James Brolin, who looks oddly like the aging Burt Reynolds in this movie and sounds like he is auditioning for a Chef Boyardee commercial in Hell), has retired and now operates a restaurant. But he is supposed to be this James Bond-like former stud operative ... and he names his son "Pistachio?!"

Anyway, Frabbrizio is kidnapped by a paroled criminal (Brent Spiner, TV's beloved Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, whose one character quirk in this film is that he farts while he laughs ... I am not making this up). Spiner forces Frabbrizio to once again don disguises. But this time, instead of for good purposes, Spiner forces him to masquerade as such celebs as Jessica Simpson and Jesse Ventura to steal items like the Liberty Bell and the U.S. Constitution that he can sell over the Internet for profit. It's up to Pistachio to discover his destiny, train with his grandfather (non-Italian Harold Gould) to become a Master of Disguise, and fall in love with his impossibly hot assistant (Jennifer Esposito).

This movie was produced by Adam Sandler, and it follows the Sandler formula of featuring a lovable, good-hearted loser with a whiny simpleton's voice who is constantly picked on by bullies (Carvey is slapped throughout the film by an arrogant waiter, Esposito's arrogant boyfriend, Spiner's arrogant henchmen ... actually just about every character slaps Pistachio). The plot will then call for the loser to inexplicably kick all their tails, show the girl his heart is pure, and then save the day. The formula works for Sandler. But Carvey looks so sickly and his mannerisms are so wrong, that you just feel sad for him as he tries desperately to ingratiate himself to the audience.

Man, this movie depressed me.

None of the various disguises that Carvey dons are even remotely funny. In one scene, he does Al Pacino from Scarface (it actually sounds more like Dan Hedaya as Nick Tortelli). The next scene he mimics Robert Shaw from "Jaws." Pistachio goes to an exclusive lounge known as the Turtle Club dressed as ... a guy in a turtle suit. It is established that true Masters of Disguises wear "Mission: Impossible"-like masks. Pistachio's disguises just looks like Dana Carvey in a different wig.

What really bugged me was that Carvey never committed to any of these alter egos. It's sad that he has been so roundly eclipsed by former partner-in-comedy, Mike Myers. When Myers is on as Dr.Evil or Fat Bastard or Austin Powers, he IS those characters. Myers practically disappears. Imagine what HE could have done with a film about a master of disguises. Carvey is just mugging here. Only if his purpose was to play a character named Unfunny Bastard has he succeeded. Regardless of what disguise he dons, he goes through the whole picture with this mildly retarded, overly gleeful, wide-eyed look on his face. Yes, he does get rightfully slapped for it in many scenes. But no one really hauls off and hits him the way I would have had I been given the opportunity to swing away at the man.

Ugh! I'm done with this movie. Most reviews I write, I go to great lengths not to give away the details of the plot. In this case, I want to tell you every single thing that happens in this movie, so even if you are still thinking of going to see it, you won't. But, in the words of Nixon, "We could do that ... but it would be wrong." I'll just stop now. I do feel sorry for Carvey. He has been through a lot, and it's nice that his buddy Sandler was able to help him out here with a movie deal. But after this weekend, Carvey may need to become a master of disguises himself to save some face.

Hey, maybe he can don a Tom Green mask. He hasn't been seen for a while.

The Master of Disguise is rated PG for Please Get your kids in to see Lilo & Stitch or Stuart Little 2


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