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Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Master of Disguise

Title: The Master of Disguise

Year of Release: 2002

MPAA Rating: PG

Date Viewed: May 13th, 2010

It may seem silly to express sympathy for someone who probably has a bigger bank account than I do, but truth be told I do feel bad for Dana Carvey. He is a terrific comedic talent and has found great success with Saturday Night Live, became a pop culture icon in Wayne's World and still makes a good living doing stand-up comedy. Despite this success, when his name is brought up in conversation, it usually winds up as a discussion of how funny he was rather than how funny he is. It's very unfair because his recent HBO special "Squatting Monkeys Tell No Lies" proved to me that he hasn't lost his touch.

After the Saturday Night Live era, Carvey has had trouble finding his place in the mainstream. In 2001, an opportunity knocked on his door. He was able to get a major film role that would serve as a vehicle to his talent, especially his dead-on celebrity impersonations. This was the chance for that mainstream comeback that he and his fans had been waiting for.

Only there was a problem. The script was horrendous. It was uninspired with so many gags that never had any hope of success that Carvey had no choice but to try and carry the film purely on his ability to channel dozens of alter-egos. But some scripts are so bad that even someone as talented as Carvey couldn't save it. The film became known as The Master of Disguise and the thing that ruined Carvey's chance at finding a new audience. And the saddest part is watching him try so hard to make it work. I can't admire this film but I strongly admire its star's effort. Just watch that clip at the top again. It's the best scene in the movie and shows how much potential was there.

Here's a breakdown of the film's plot. There's not much there, so it won't take long. Carvey plays a dorky Italian waiter named Pistachio who discovers that he has inherited his family's ability to imitate others and transform flawlessly into another person. He is a true master of disguise. It's a skill that proves useful after his parents become kidnapped by a really evil guy who enjoys stealing artifacts all over the world. As for his motive, I really don't recall what it was because I was too distracted by the running joke where the villain lets out a fart every time he laughs out loud.

Anyway....Pistachio takes on a dozen different personas ranging from Tony Montana to a talking turtle. The script's reason behind this is so Pistachio and his eye-candy assistant can infiltrate the villain's roaming areas and find out more details on his non-complex sinister deeds. The real reason is so Carvey has a chance to make the audience laugh at his crazy characters. His versatility is impressive, but so few of the jokes work that I was half expecting a heckler to boo him off the screen or Chuck Barris to strike a very loud gong. Pistachio showing up place-to-place as a new character each time comprises eighty percent of the film's running time. The remaining twenty percent is split between the flatulence running gag and celebrity cameos that are ruined by the movie's need to point out exactly who is on the screen. A tip for comedy writers: If you have to spell out a cameo to your audience, it's probably not a funny one to begin with.

The Master of Disguise barely passes as a feature film. Its running time barely makes it over the eighty-minute mark. The DVD offers lots of footage of deleted and alternate scenes; further evidence that Carvey and the filmmakers were completely winging it without having a solid idea to rally behind.

Dana Carvey deserves better than this but probably won't get it. The damage had been done. But why am I so up in arms over this? I doubt he needs anyone to feel sorry for him. I guess it's because I'm a fan and I realize how much of a missed opportunity this was to create more of them. Keep us laughing, Dana. They don't know what they're missing.

Rating: 3

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