Monday, November 7, 2011

Film Review: The Master Of Disguise


The Master of Disguise
  • Publisher: Columbia
  • Studio: Revolution / Happy Gilmore
  • Release: 2 August 2002
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Director: Perry Andelin Blake
  • Writers: Dana Carvey, Harris Goldberg
  • Starring: Dana Carvey, Jennifer Esposito, Brent Spiner

Dana Carvey is a genius.  Whilst writing the script for his 2002 "family" film The Master of Disguise, he must have realised that the main character he was playing had become so annoying, that he decided to have him take on all manner of other personae, so as to distract the audience from its initial displeasure.  At least, that's what I'd like to think happened.  But even if this was true, in practice it didn't work out so well.  On the contrary - every new character that Dana Carvey portrays only serves to bug his viewers even more.

So what character could draw out so much ire?  Well, it starts out with the Disguisey (pronounced dis-guy-see) family, a Sicilian-based clan whose members fought crime since the Renaissance by impersonating various people and objects with great talent.  One such Disguisey, Fabbrizio (James Brolin), was responsible for the previous arrest of our villain, Devlin Bowman (Brent Spiner) by disguising himself as... Bo Derek.  Let that set the tone for the rest of the film.  So even though Bowman does 20 years, Fabbrizio fears for the safety of his family, and decides to settle in America and run an Italian restaurant.  A word to the wise: this film hosts some of the worst Italian stereotypes this side of Jersey Shore.  (I know it's a dead horse to beat on, but at least it's a more acceptable target than Hetalia, amirite?)

Fast-forward a couple of decades, and we are introduced to our ostensible hero: Pistachio Disguisey (Carvey).  In literally the first shot we see him in, he's wearing underpants on his head and a shaving-cream beard.  Let that also set the tone for this film.  Working as a waiter in his father's restaurant, he is a well-meaning worker, but is clumsy and has an out-of-control habit of mimicking other people's voices.  I call plot significance!  And his voice, oh Sabrina help me!  Take the worst stereotypical Italian accent you've heard, spoken from the mouth of a meth-charged five-year-old.  Yeah, I just broke you.  So the newly-freed Bowman has Pistachio's parents kidnapped, and the one man who comes to help him is his grandfather (Harold Gould), who teaches him the Disguisey legacy and begins his training.  And I'm sorry to say that Bowman has a running "gag" of... letting his bowels play the trumpet during his multiple evil laughs.  Because... funny?

Meanwhile, Fabbrizio is blackmailed by Bowman into coming out of retirement and using his disguise powers to "borrow" all matter of national treasures.  He takes the Declaration of Independence as Olympic runner Michael Johnson, the Liberty Bell as then-governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura, and the Apollo 11 lunar lander as Jessica Simpson (all played as themselves).  ...Sensing a pattern here?  For those playing at home, these pop-culture references date this film horribly.  Anyone who's familiar with Usain Bolt of Arnold Schwarzenegger knows what I'm talking about.  On the plus side, they did add some homages to "classic" material like 10 (the aforementioned Bo Derek cameo), The Exorcist, and Jaws.  You know, for the parents - who are the only ones who could get them in the first place.  Oh, and if National Treasure is to be believed, these items are being held in completely fake buildings, but I digress.

Sadly, back to Pistachio.  Turns out costuming is only part of the game; a Disguisey can only attain a perfect disguise by copying their voice personality, thanks to the magical force known as "Energico".  (I can has creativity plz?)  Seriously, while I can admire them addressing the finer needs of disguise-acting, the name "Energico" is too silly to make me care.  His training also involves the Disguisey method of self-defence which, in a transparent effort to soften any potential violence, involves open-hand slapping instead of punching, in conjunction with copious (mis)use of the phrase "who's your daddy".  Oh, and he needs an assistant, too: enter Jennifer Baker (Jennifer Esposito), a single mother who was introduced to Pistachio by her son.  She follows a long list of appilcants whom Grandfather Disguisey dismisses for no apparent reason, but is given the job despite his and Pistachio's mutual desire for a mate with a well-stocked caboose, which she happens to lack.  But she does prove a refreshing serious foil to her new co-worker; with her help, Pistachio follows Bowman's trail to the "Turtle Club" the not-Antiques Roadshow, and finally Bowman's villa.

Oh, but I skipped over the worst part: the disguises used in these places.  Pistachio apparently mis-understood what the name "Turtle Club" entailed, because he dresses up in a giant turtle shell.  Because... funny?  When they finally meet Bowman at the antiques convention, Pistachio starts hitting on him as the pepperpot-like Gammy Num Nums, but for no reason s/he waffles and starts insulting him, leading to this line:  "Well, guess what, Backstreet Boy!  This is one Girls Scout who doesn't want to be the Malcolm in your Middle!"  That...  Impossibly, that was dated from the moment s/he said it.  By 2002, the Backstreet Boys had (temporarily) broken up, and whether or not you think Malcolm in the Middle was culturally relevant, it getting cancelled a few years after the fact didn't help matters!  And it fails as a sexual entendre, too... just think about that.  Or not.

Despite Pistachio's best efforts, he and Jennifer get invited to Bowman's place for a party.  Jennifer does some snooping in his house, whilst Pistachio distracts Bowman with such disguises as not-Tony Montana from Scarface, not-Captain Quint from Jaws, and... a grass suit with a cow pie on top.  Because... funny?  Never mind how, but Pistachio loses Bowman's henchmen in a brief foot chase which takes them back to the city's Italian district (which is how far away, might I ask?), only to go back and retrieve Jennifer from Bowman's custody.  Oh, and there's some sub-plot involving Jennifer's ex-boyfriend.  In theory, Pistachio having to deal with him would have given some character development in helping him become a man.  But I can't get one thought out of my head: were they still dating?  If so, then the other guy might be a jerk, but I'd still root for him.  Anything to get rid of that tool Pistachio.

And yet despite this alleged character development, Pistachio has run out of leads on Bowman and Jennifer was re-captured, so he contacts his grandfather via Energico, who encourages him to run one last raid on Bowman's estate.  A few tepid action sequences are interspersed with Bowman outlining his evil plan to some anonymous suits: sell the treasures acquired by Fabbrizio on a website called - prepare yourself - "BlackMarkEBay".  I tell ya, the stupid coming out of the movie is just tangible.  And not even a cameo from Kenan Thompson can save it.  To top it off, Bowman has permanently affixed a mask of himself onto Fabbrizio, locked him into his own persona by somehow applying the dark side of Energico (exactly like Star Wars - and those are Pistachio's words, not mine), and sics him on his own son.  I admit this is a pleasantly dark turn, I mean, if this were to succeed, how could Fabbrizio live with the pain of killing his own son?  But of course that doesn't happen.  Pistachio snaps his father out of his evil mode by evoking the underwear-on-head gag from the beginning of the movie.  *sigh*  Pretty flimsy conclusion to a flimsy movie...

BUT WAIT!

Bowman is still at large, and the reunited Disguises track him to a resort in Costa Rica.  Point man Pistachio confronts him as - get this - George W. Bush.  To give you one last idea of how dated this movie is, if it were done just a couple of years later, everyone in Hollywood would've hated Dubya too much to pull off a scene like this.  So Pistachio knocks Bowman into the pool, and he doesn't get up.  Wait a minute, did he drown?  All we get is one last, loud... um, "bubble", you tell me.  Does this man have super drowning skills or something?  Welp, no sense dwelling on those tribbles - the movie's over, technically.  Should some indescribable force compel you to stay in your seat of choice, the entire credits sequence is loaded with all manner of outtakes and deleted scenes.  Thank you, Columbia Pictures, for giving us an excuse not to buy the DVD.

Please allow me to retract my opening statement: Dana Carvey is an idiot, albeit a thoughtful, well-meaning idiot.  His man-child performance somehow manages to shine through no matter what character he plays.  The plot?  Sure, there could be potential in a serious screenplay with a similar premise, but the juvenile execution takes you out of it.  And for a family comedy, whatever humour isn't off-colour (which sadly makes up a good chunk of the material) just falls flat.  Pistachio Disguisey, your art had better be up to snuff, because you deserve to be hunted down for this travesty.

Acting: 1 disguise out of 5
Writing: 1 disguise out of 5
Technical: 2 disguises out of 5
The Call: 25% (F)

Next Episode: I admit I'm running low on things to review, but I do have one for another import game lined up next.  Also, since this blog is edging close to two thousand pageviews, I am pleased to report that a video version of the Strawberry Dragon Project is in production.  Look for the pilot episode sometime before the end of 2011.

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