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The Master of Disguise
2002 - PG - 80 Mins.
Director: Perry Andelin Blake
Producer: Barry Bernardi
Written By: Dana Carvey, Harris Goldberg
Starring: Dana Carvey, Brent Spiner, Jennifer Esposito, Harold Gould, James Brolin,
Review by: Marc Eastman
   
Dana Carvey’s baby, ‘The Master of Disguise’, is the sort of movie that will prove (and has already proven to be) a true ‘tell’. It divides people into two groups, although knowing that is true is much easier than is deciding what exactly those two groups may be. I find myself immediately inclined toward two classifications.

1. Those who can honestly give a movie a chance without starting from a seriously biased frame of mind, and those who can’t.

And/Or,

2. Those who have the ability to enjoy and appreciate movies that are just a bit of a goof, and those who don’t.


Neither of these quite works, but perhaps by looking at those we can get somewhere in the end. Let’s not get the wrong impression here though, ‘Master of Disguise’ is not a good movie. Where I’m trying to begin this endeavor is with the idea that it is not only not deserving of the critical firestorm it has received, it is not even the sort of thing that is able to be deserving of such scorn.

In order for the possibility of serious, legitimate contempt to exist, a movie must (in my opinion) be serious about something. What can it really mean to say that a movie which aspires to nothing is bad? At best, we can describe it with a list of negations (it’s not good, it’s not funny, etc.), but how do we get to the positive statement that it is bad? We may delve too far into the theoretical world here, but I think at worst such a movie can attain some status of severe disinterest. You may not like it one bit (and I do not like it much myself), but it really puts forward nothing that can be latched onto in order to invest the emotional interest such that it may be despised. An empty room, be it the ‘best’ or ‘worst’ example of the species, can at worst be uninteresting, perhaps even unsatisfying, but it cannot be loathed.

Supposing all of this is true, it must immediately be clear that ‘The Master of Disguise’ has been unfairly abused. If there is anything that can be said with certainty about the movie, it is that it is not even remotely serious about anything. At barely over an hour, it isn’t even serious about being a movie at all.

It seems (though I am willing to admit the possibility of error here) that the problem stems clearly from a mistake in viewing the film. That may sound odd, but the mistake here is in thinking that this is merely a further example of a certain set of horrible films, as opposed to something that is just a bit of a lark which is laughing at that set of horrible films.

We come down, I think, to two possibilities. Either co-writer and star Dana Carvey is just pulling a bit of a goof, making mockery of much that goes on in certain really bad movies, or he is so mentally deficient that he is in dire need of committal. While we may, with a sense of whimsy comparable to the movie itself, jump to the latter choice, I think we can't deny that it is actually quite unlikely, and we need to at least explore the former option.

‘The Master of Disguise’ purports to describe the super-heroesque family, the Disguiseys. Throughout time, the Disguiseys have battled the forces of evil with their supernatural ability to disguise themselves as anyone or anything. We are introduced to this concept through a flashback in which Frabrizzio Disguisey manages, somehow, to be responsible for the arrest of some nogoodnik or other. Upon completion of the mission, he discusses his son with his father (driving the getaway car), and insists that this is no life for said son.

We move to the present and learn that Frabrizzio has opened an Italian restaurant, and his son Pistachio (Dana Carvey), completely in the dark about the family history, works there as a waiter. We learn that Pistachio has not had an easy time of life. He has spent his life in constant conflict with his inherited abilities of disguise causing him to yearn to disguise himself.

After this very brief introduction to what we’re about, Pistachio’s parents are kidnaped. Pistachio is left with no idea what to do, and he’s rather a doofus besides, but he is saved by the homage return of his grandfather. Grandfather Disguisey reveals the family secret, and undertakes to transform Pistachio into a Master of Disguise.

As you might have guessed, things are going to move along in a viciously formulaic way. In fact, in order to make certain of its point (which is to point at formulaic movies, among other things), it is formulaic in a way that defies anything to ever top it in this regard. If I add to what you already know the facts that Pistachio will hire a beautiful assistant who has a son and boyfriend, and that Pistachio’s parents were kidnaped by Devlin Bowman who was just released from a twenty-year stint in prison which was the result of Fabrizzio’s flashback escapade, I will have given away too much, because there is nothing you will not be able to work out about the plot.

Between the bits we’re pretending have to do with 'the story', Dana Carvey does impressions, acts silly, and inserts a few lines of actually witty dialogue. It’s mostly an inane humor the movie and Carvey put out, but that’s not necessarily to say that it isn’t funny. It often is. It’s a whimsical, silly sort of funny, but it manages a laugh here and there.

As I’ve said, I propose that it isn’t actually doing any of the things that might appear stupid, it’s making fun of other movies that do those things. It’s not really trying to work a flatulence gag, it’s making fun of the gag itself. It’s not actually using plot contrivances that are ‘so crazy they just might work’, it’s making fun of such things, and moreover the fact that these are generally given to us as though a result of some superior logical reasoning. It’s not really using such old, hollow devices as having the hero dangling by his fingernails at the apparent mercy of the bad guy, it’s asking movies to please stop using them.

I hear the rebuttal already. That I am trying too hard. That I am attempting to read too much into things, and assuming too much in the motives of the movie. On the contrary, this all seems self-evident to me, and in merely viewing it once (for I would not do so again) it was clear that time and time again the movie was aiming at being just this sort of entity (or perhaps non-entity). From the very outset we have the very antithesis of a super-hero. A super-hero whose power is merely to avoid confrontation at every turn, and which is indeed more detriment than benefit. He has his Batcav...err... ‘Nest’. He has his book of all knowledge with handy reference to the most precise answer he could need at any given moment, down to the silliest of minutiae. It is the application of strict, critical analysis to the thing that strikes me as not only going too far, but going so far as to render itself meaningless. It would be analogous to applying the same level of focus to a Three Stooges movie, and what could we be about there?

Dana Carvey is not at the top of his game, but there are some funny moments. Jennifer Esposito (‘Spin City’ TV, ‘Made’, ‘Don’t Say a Word’) is surprisingly (and I’m leaning toward accidentally) effective in her role as Pistachio’s assistant. She puts forward a wonderfully non-committal distance, almost as though outside the movie itself, which works with the direction we’re going. As if coming into the distinctly ‘theme park’ restaurant/lair of the Disguiseys from beyond the main entrance, having purchased her ticket with the rest of us, she’s as befuddled by the sheer ridiculousness of these characters as we are.

After all that, it’s still not good. It’s a simple, occasionally funny, tongue-in-cheek release. Even with it’s short running-time, it’s a bit too long, and it isn’t as funny as such an endeavor ought to be. I certainly can’t recommend it with a straight face, but I don’t really recommend any serious attempt to avoid it either. If you think there is any chance you might like it to any degree, you will probably like it slightly more than that. If you think there is no chance you will like it at all, you might take another look at why you think so.

 
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

 
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