MASTER OF DISGUISE
Pistachio Disguisey (Dana Carvey) is a waiter who works in an Italian restaurant for his father, Fabbrizio Disguisey (James Brolin). Because he has always been considered a fool, Pistachio’s father has never told him of the special powers of the Disguisey clan, that for hundreds of years have enabled them to disguise themselves and thus preserve the world from evil. But when Pistachio’s parents are kidnapped by the villainous Devlin Bowman (Brent Spiner) Pistachio finally learns his true identity and sets out to save the day, with a little help from his grandfather (Harold Gould) and his glamorous assistant Jennifer (Jennifer Esposito).
Review by Jake Wilson:
Dana Carvey’s babbling eager-beaver persona owes an obvious debt to Jerry Lewis, and like several of the best Lewis films The Master Of Disguise can be seen as a veiled artistic autobiography. Carvey’s acquired skill as a comedian/actor parallels Pistachio’s education through the discipline of mimicry – learning to ‘become another person’ as a route to finding himself.
It’s a great, resonant comic premise, yet the film fails on every level, partly due to Carvey’s charmless passive-aggressive manner – lacking the abrasive edge of Lewis or Adam Sandler, he’s nakedly winsome, a puppy yapping for love. Call me politically correct, but in general there’s something very dubious about self-satisfied white guys masquerading as bumbling little kids, who wind up being lauded as macho heroes as well.
That neurotic need to have everything both ways leads to snickering cynicism or worse – even in a film for children, it’s not funny when Pistachio pimps his girlfriend to the villain without a second thought (a more thoughtful script might have proposed acceptance of guilt as the price of adulthood). Nor is any of this helped by the slack direction, combining unfunny improvised dialogue, wallpaper pop music, irregularly spaced voice-over and an occasional try for mock-expressionist style in shadowy, backlit scenes of villainy. It’s hard to say how far the mix-and-match approach is a conscious plan – as in many recent, broad Hollywood comedies, there’s free use of randomised fantasy and abrupt transitions, epitomised by the digital transformations (spoofing Mission Impossible) where characters tear off their “masks” and morph into different actors entirely.
Perhaps Hollywood hasn’t realised how far this cartoonishness undermines star glamour, hinting that “individuals” are no more than malleable, interchangable fantasies? In theory, the whole point of The Master Of Disguise is to show off its star’s virtuoso performance skills, yet most of the big gags rely on computer-generated imagery, dubbed sound effects, or expensive-looking costumes. Which leaves the question open: is Pistachio (or Carvey) really a master of disguise, or is he just a hack who can afford to spend up big?
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MASTER OF DISGUISE (PG)
CAST: Dana Carvey, Jennifer Esposito, Harold Gould, James Brolin, Brent Spiner
PRODUCER: Barry Bernardi, Sidney Ganis, Todd Garner, Alex Siskin
DIRECTOR: Perry Andelin Blake
SCRIPT: Dana Carvey, Harris Goldberg
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Lyons Collister
EDITOR: Peck Prior, Sandy S. Solowitz
MUSIC: Marc Ellis
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alan Au
RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 1, 2003