starring Dana Carvey, Mark Devine, Jennifer Esposito, Harold Gould
screenplay by Dana Carvey & Harris Goldberg
directed by Perry Andelin Blake
by Walter Chaw Produced by Adam Sandler's Happy Madison company and directed by one of Sandler's sycophantic toadies (Perry Andelin Blake), The Master of Disguise is every bit as soul-sucking and painful as one of the comedian's own plodding star vehicles. Graceless and dunderheaded, the film's only message is that slapping people across the face is the best way to achieve empowerment, and its only reason for being is to serve as proof positive of the Peter Principle. Edited with a hacksaw and presenting an insipid child character (Austin Wolff) used for slapstick laughs before getting kicked to the curb, The Master of Disguise represents a lot of what's wrong with movies in the United States today. That it happens to be the sequel-in-spirit of Dana Carvey's "breakthrough" film Opportunity Knocks (1990) is what folks in the business call "sadistic."
Pistachio Disguisey (Carvey) is a dim-witted Italian caricature, a joylessly incompetent waiter in his father Fabbrizio's (James Brolin, introduced first as a Centurion baby, then as Bo Derek) restaurant who spends his spare time putting underwear on his head. Little does Pistachio know that his is a legacy of Disguiseys, a line of master disguisers who defend the world from the forces of evil. When the evil and flatulent Devlin Bowman (Brent Spiner) abducts Fabbrizio, Pistachio is forced by his crusty mentor Grandpa (Harold Gould) to confront his destiny and become The Master of Disguise.
This involves, naturally, Carvey doing an unkind impersonation of an Indian fakir while in "brown face," pretending to be a turtle guy in something that plays like an Ace Ventura outtake, and doing Al Pacino, Robert Shaw, and his patented George Bush (senior or younger, it makes no difference), which is sure to get one or two people in the United States who still remember Dana Carvey to experience momentary bemusement followed by pity. Looking worn and abused after years of struggling with a severe heart condition, Carvey's ostensible comeback is really difficult to witness, terminally unfocused yet driven by this desperate energy that suffuses the whole of the benighted project with an indelible measure of pathos. The Master of Disguise is funny--not "ha ha" funny, but "dead circus performer" funny.
Aside from the problems embedded in a film that casually casts a large African-American gentleman as a kindly, pie-serving house servant (Sandler's formula, after all, is one part cavalier racism, one part irritating vocal deformity, two parts ugly violence often targeting children), The Master of Disguise appears to be a how-to guide for encouraging your kids to be irritating, obnoxious, and ill-bred for a few hours. It's the kind of garbage that otherwise good parents will drag their kids to, prepared to defend that decision because the material is base and feckless in a way that children appreciate. It's always struck me as peculiar that in a society so interested in child welfare that the one area where a standard of quality for children is ignored (by parents in particular) is film. In fact, the cineplex is the only place where "it's for children" refers to something of an appreciably lower quality, and much like any aspect of the medium, financially supporting the lowest common denominator all but guarantees a steady diet of like debris. In other words, if you insist on seeing The Master of Disguise because your young children love fart and cow-pie jokes, you compromise your moral authority to complain about how they don't make 'em like they used to. Originally published: August 2, 2002.
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