The Master of Disguise is like an unsightly interstate accident that brings traffic to a standstill. You know the type. You don’t really want to look at it, but you end up gaping anyway. When you’re stuck in traffic like that, you’re confined to your car. If you’re stuck at Disguise, there are some options — namely free will, your legs and their ability to work in conjunction with your brain to move you toward the exit sign.
What is truly sad is that this accident has a casualty – the dignity of its star, Dana Carvey. As part of one of Saturday Night Live’s best overall lineup of comedians, Carvey was brilliant, balancing natural straight-man tendencies with a mean gift for mimicry. Now, he’s been reduced to shilling for buddy Adam Sandler, whose name recognition as the film’s producer is the only foreseeable reason for it getting a green light.
Carvey plays Pistachio Disguisey, whose incessant, high-pitched whine combines Sandler’s Idiot Southerner character with Carvey’s “You like-a da pepper?” guy from SNL. Pistachio is happy to be a waiter in an Italian restaurant owned by his father, Fabrizzio (James Brolin), but has always felt inclined to imitate others. Pistachio doesn’t realize that the Disguisey family has a legacy of being masters of disguise, who have worked throughout history to save the world from evil. Fabrizzio never told him in hopes to save him from the dangers involved in that line of work.
Pistachio is thrust into the family business, however, when evil antiques dealer Devlin Bowman (Brent Spiner) kidnaps his father and mother. With help from his grandfather (Harold Gould) and a lovely assistant (Jennifer Esposito), Pistachio sets out to master his trade, save his parents and keep Bowman from stealing historical American treasures.
Carvey displayed little flair for carrying a picture in forgettable leading-man vehicles such as Clean Slate and Opportunity Knocks. But those movies would top an AFI list when compared to Disguise. Carvey’s voice of choice is annoying enough, but he uses it to repeat random words and phrases ad nauseum. That routine might work on a newborn baby for a couple of minutes. On kids and adults for 80 minutes, there ought to be a law.
And aside from his take on Robert Shaw’s Captain Quint from Jaws, none of the characters Carvey disguises himself as is remotely funny. Even in such old-hat territory as playing the new President Bush, Carvey is uninspired.
But Carvey’s not acting on the whims of some unruly, unknown screenwriter. As a co-writer, he’s working from his own material. The fact that he helped create all this might make you wonder what the pod people have done with the real Dana Carvey.
Among other founts of wit he and co-writer Harris Goldberg have created are endless scenes of Pistachio getting slapped in the face, the character’s inability to love a woman with a small behind, and a young child whose attempts to ride a skateboard result in his violently falling on the sidewalk. Sidesplitting, isn’t it?
Also, poking fun at other movies rarely works unless it’s a straight parody film. Here, we’re treated to mockeries of Chariots of Fire, 10, The Exorcist, this summer’s own Scooby-Doo (which can’t possibly be as horrid as this is) and, of all things, Shrek.
As for the supporting performances, they could only be sadder if every actor in the film died, leaving this as the last film on their résumé.
For good reason, Brolin looks positively embarrassed throughout; one of the film’s final images is of him smacking his own bottom. Maybe next time, he should let Barbra take a look at the script before he signs on. Esposito is as game as she can be with the part of the thankless love interest. To be fair, Spiner is saddled with the film’s most obnoxious running gag. But his hammy overacting proves that he should be allowed to play no role other than Data in Star Trek films.
The Master of Disguise clearly wants to be a toned-down version of Carvey and Sandler’s PG-13 tendencies, sort of an Austin Powers for third graders. It shares similar ideas with that franchise — flatulence jokes, odd cameos and characters with strange quirks. But it lacks the giddy imagination, timing and go-for-broke mentality that makes Austin Powers work.
In the end, Carvey is left wishing he could disguise himself as Mike Myers, or himself circa 1986.
At least then, he would be funny again.