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Master of Disguise

  Master of Disguise
Dana Carvey and Jennifer Esposito put up a brave front for a doomed cause.

© 2002, Columbia
All Rights Reserved

It's genuinely hard to dislike Dana Carvey. The former "Saturday Night Live" star is a wizard when it comes to imitation and improvisational comedy. But to look at his filmography, you would think that the comedian was trying to sabotage his career. Outside of the two "Wayne's World" pictures from a decade ago, can anyone really sell the merits of 1990's "Opportunity Knocks," or 1994's "Trapped In Paradise" and "Clean Slate"? "Master Of Disguise" (IMDb listing) is Carvey's latest, and possibly last, bid for cinema supremacy, and it comes as no surprise that the film just isn't worth the time.

Pistachio Disguisey (Carvey) is a bumbling Italian restaurant waiter who searches everyday for his true destiny. When his father (James Brolin) is kidnapped by the nefarious Devil Bowman (Brent Spiner) and forced to steal historical icons (the Liberty Bell, the Constitution), it is revealed that Pistachio is a descendant of a long line of "masters of disguise." Trained in the art of disguise, Pistachio's grandfather teaches the novice the tricks of the trade. With the help of his assistant (Jennifer Esposito, looking bewildered in a way that isn't acting), Pistachio sets out to recover his father, along the way using his powers to infiltrate any location along the way.

By any standards, the Adam Sandler-produced "Master Of Disguise" is a curious film. It doesn't make much sense, labors for laughs unlike any comedy in recent memory (just barely beating out last spring's "Super Troopers"), and awkwardly tries to fill out the bare-bones, 80-minute running time, which includes a full three minutes after the end credits are finished. It also appears the picture has been chopped up and put back together again by the studio, as the narrative liberally leaps around from scene to scene, relying on out-of-nowhere voiceover to fill in the blanks. "Master Of Disguise" is terribly messy, and downright hideously directed by first-timer Perry Blake. Even with a game cast and a reasonable film idea, the picture just lurches along as if paralyzed about what to do and how to do it. Comedy is tough to pull off, but "Master Of Disguise" makes it look impossible.

Of course, since Carvey does have the natural comedic skills, there are some laughs here and there. I especially liked how Pistachio and company looked up Bowman's evil plans on his page. And equally fun is the idea of Carvey's many makeup appliances. But they squander this idea when they canšt come up with anything funny for Carvey to do. Carvey bears as much blame as Blake, since he co-wrote this thing, but I was hoping for a rip-roaring good time with Carvey's uncanny ability to change himself into anyone. If I had to choose between Carvey as the Turtle Guy, the Old Lady, the Cherry Pie man, or even our President Bush for the best laughs, I would pick the nearest exit instead.

And is this truly a film for children? While relatively PG clean for the family audiences, Pistachiošs other incarnations include a Tony Montana ("Scarface") character, a cow pie (literally), and Robert Shaw from "Jaws." I doubt any kid in the audience will laugh at these personalities, which makes the target demo for "Disguise" all the harder to pinpoint.

While it's harmless, "Master Of Disguise" is an unfunny waste of time. Dana Carvey's career probably won't recover from this mess, but on the bright side, I doubt anyone will ever notice.

Filmfodder Grade: D

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