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Entries in Master of Disguise/The [2002] (1)


The Master of Disguise (2002)

Blow Gabba Gabba

I haven’t seen this many bad decisions since my internship at Planned Parenthood. Is that any way to kick off a commemorative, tenth-anniversary review of Dana Carvey's smash, The Master of Disguise? You betcha! This movie is at once horrible, heart-warming and oddly hilarious--just like a well-phrased abortion joke.

Right now, you're probably asking, "What's wrong with Ian today?"

For starters, I watched The Master of Disguise at 4am. For finishers, I didn't stop. Eighty minutes of fart gags, impressions that were twenty years old when this ten-year-old movie came out, and a lead actor whose grating Italian accent makes the Jersey Shore cast seem like ambassadorial candidates is more than enough to make someone a little testy--which reminds me of a gag from this movie involving (stand back) cheese balls and a mini-sausage.

The "movie" stars Carvey as Pistachio Disguisey, a socially awkward waiter whose dad is a retired spy. Fabbrizio Disguisey (James Brolin) gave up his life of intrigue back in the 70s so that he could raise his son in peace with his lovely, cooking-obsessed wife (Edie McClurg). Decades later, an evil mastermind named Devlin Bowman (Brent Spiner) kidnaps Pistachio's parents and forces the old man to use his famous powers of impersonation to steal priceless artifacts.

Pistachio learns of his rubber-faced destiny from Grandfather Disguisey (Harold Gould), who shows up to...




Can we just pretend I filled in the space above with details I'm desperate to forget?

Thanks. I owe you. Big time.

Look, the only way to watch The Master of Disguise is as a toddler's movie. Through that lens, it becomes a seemingly harmless Disney Channel Original--save for some bizarre sexual harassment involving Pistachio's comely assistant, Jennifer (Jennifer Esposito, the only actor who transcends the material enough to be tolerable). I also question the wisdom of Carvey and co-writer Harris Goldberg including a Tony Montana disguise. Even if new-century toddlers have been raised on Scarface, don't they deserve a better impression than this? I won't even touch the Bo Derek gag that opens the movie.*

It's as if Carvey and director Perry Andelin Blake wanted to make the next Spy Kids, but with an innocent, adult doofus as the hero instead of actual kids. As we've seen in countless "Gotta-do-one-for-my-children" vanity projects (Inspector Gadget, The Pacifier, The Spy Next Door), this is rarely a good idea. Yet, the movie looks great--like a high-def Sesame Street where striking set designers were scabbed by stoned Muppets. I guess the filmmakers wanted to give adults some shiny objects to follow, since the screenplay is devoid of helping hands for anyone over the age of five.

Sorry if this is too much of an obvious, fish-in-a-barrel review. I just expect more from kids' movies than this lame attempt at...whatever it is these folks attempted. Children aren't stupid.** They want to be engaged and entertained just like adults do, and it's a shame that every film directed their way isn't infused with as much imagination, smarts, and wonder as the classics most of us were weaned on. They say that not every movie can be a classic, to which I wonder aloud, "Why not?"

The answer, of course, is not only blowing in the wind (sorry), it's the fact that risky ideas are expensive. Running jokes about flatulence stick nicely to figurative and literal walls, and it is only by the grace of Pixar that kids today have a fighting chance. I don't know if I can end on a pithy point, or if I've even arrived at one. For that I ask your forgiveness and understanding.

I did, after all, just finish watching The Master of Disguise.

*Okay, I lied. I'm gonna touch it. Here's a tip to aspiring screenwriters from a former aspiring screenwriter who now critiques working screenwriters from a place that is not at all bitter (ahem): Don't step on your own lame visual gag with a line of voice-over that's kind of funny.

We see Bo Derek running in slow-motion from a gang of bad guys, essentially recreating her iconic image from Blake Edwards' 10. The fact that Bo Derek is pretty much known for that one thing makes this the laziest joke in a movie brimming with them--it's like crafting an edgy Michael Jordan bit involving a basketball.

Anyway, the frame freezes as Grandfather Disguisey informs us that "Bo" is actually Fabbrizio, "Thats-a my son." It's worth maybe half a chuckle--precisely one-third of the film's actual laughs.