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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Master of Disguise (review)

Torture of the Damned

Dana Carvey should be ashamed of himself.

“I really wanted to make a movie that kids could enjoy along with their parents,” Carvey has said about The Master of Disguise. “There are times when kids will be entertained in a movie theater while mom and dad are snoring next to them. We were after something that would keep them awake together!”

Oh, The Master of Disguise will keep you awake, all right, in the same way that, say, having your toenails slowly pulled out while your fingers are broken, one by one, will keep you awake. If I’d known what I was in for — and even the little voice in my head that urged me to Avoid, Avoid had no inkling of the true depths of awfulness this movie achieves — I might have chosen the toenails- and- fingers torment. Your body forgets physical pain, after all, while psychic pain lingers. And this may well be the most excruciating form of mental torture ever devised by man.
In a big corner office in Hell, Satan is throwing up his hands in surrender, is firing his R&D people, and has decided he will just screen The Master of Disguise 24/7.

<Mr. Moviefone>
Now playing on Circle 1, The Master of Disguise, at 1:15, 3:30, 5:20, 7:15, 9:00, 10:45, and 12:30!
</Mr. Moviefone>

If this is Dana Carvey’s idea of fit entertainment for anyone, then he’s from another planet. (To be fair, he was in cahoots with the people who brought you Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo and the oeuvre of Adam Sandler. And maybe that says it all.) The Master of Disguise is a cheap, and cheap-looking, celebration of idiocy, obviousness, and crudity. Carvey’s character, the absurdly monikered Pistachio Disguisey, is a moronic man-child whom we’re supposed to cheer on not in spite of but because of his boorish behavior and all-encompassing stupidity. Any parent who unwittingly wanders into a showing of this movie with her child will surely have to endure a phase of rude imbecility from the kid, imitating Carvey’s behavior here. If there were any justice in this world, Carvey would suffer the voices of millions of grade-schoolers ringing in his head, all of them chanting “I’m going to be the master of disguise, I’m going to be the master of disguise,” all of them mimicking his half-witted singsong. You’ve seen it on the TV commercial for the movie. You know what I mean.

Pistachio is supposed to come from a long line of masters of disguise — the Disguiseys, and someone deserves a smack for that name alone — but if he is a master of anything, it’s of the mean-spirited stereotype. Nearly every “disguise” he assumes wouldn’t fool an infant, and nearly every one gets its “humor” from undignified exaggeration: the Indian snake charmer, the “sexy” grandmother-type, the suave Englishman. Even the undisguised characters are either horrendous ethnic clichés — like Mama Disguisey, Pistachio’s fat and bouncy Italian mother — or worse than cardboard, like Pistachio’s “beautiful assistant.” (Jennifer Esposito, as the assistant, is just about the only one onscreen with the grace to look embarrassed to be there.)

The plot, perhaps needless to say, is utterly senseless when it isn’t completely unbelievable. It’s about Pistachio’s parents being kidnapped by an old Disguisey enemy (Brent Spiner: I Am Sam. Oh, Brent…). It’s unbearable.

Carvey and Co. miss not a single opportunity to appeal to the innate vulgarity of 8-year-olds. Sure, kids think farts are funny, but isn’t it the job of adults to turn the little savages into civilized beings and not wallow in their barbarism with them? Sure, kids think slapstick is funny, but there isn’t even the balletic elegance of the Three Stooges to the smacking-around here — it’s just a lot of smacking around. And it’s Pistachio getting smacked most of the time, physically and emotionally, and he mostly deserves it. And this is our “hero.” How is this healthy for children to watch? How is this enjoyable for their parents to watch? How can we ensure something like this never, ever happens again? Is there someone we can call?

I wanted to scream every moment of the entire four-day running time of this movie. It’s being put around that The Master of Disguise is only something like 80 minutes long, but don’t you believe it.

If there’s one positive thing to say about the steaming, stinking mound of manure that is The Master of Disguise, it’s that now, for years, other really quite awful movies will be slightly more endurable. Because I’ll be able to say, “Well, at least it wasn’t as bad as The Master of Disguise.”


MPAA: rated PG for mild language and some crude humor

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
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