THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Dana Carvey proved himself a brilliant mimic during his years on "Saturday Night Live." The characters he created - from The Church Lady to Garth - proved Carvey to be one of the world's leading chameleons, able to assume vastly different personalities on a weekly basis. He has had trouble tranferring his "SNL" success to the big screen, largely because the format of a feature-length movie doesn't typically support this kind of comedy. Perhaps realizing this, Carvey co-wrote and stars in The Master of Disguise, about a guy who is expert at assuming different identities. On the surface, this would appear to be a perfect idea for the comedian, but the movie is so dreadfully awful that it might just put a nail in Carvey's career coffin.

Dana Carvey disguises himself as a turtle to impress assistant Jennifer Esposito in The Master of Disguise
Carvey plays Pistachio Disguisey, an Italian who descends from a long-line of quick-change artists. The family has devoted their unusual skill to fighting crime and contributing something positive to the world. Pistachio knows none of this until his mother (Edie McClurg) and father Frabbrizio (James Brolin) are kidnapped. Grandpa Disguisey (Harold Gould) then puts him through a crash course in altering his appearance and taking on different personas. Pistachio hires an assistant (Jennifer Esposito) to help him. They quickly stumble upon the culprit: Devlin Bowman (Brent Spiner), a playboy who wants to use Frabbrizio's skills to steal rare items like the U.S. Constitution and the Liberty Bell, which he will then sell over the internet. Pistachio disguises himself in various ways - as a turtle, a feisty grandmother, and a cherry pie, for instance - and infiltrates Bowman's hideout.

There are a lot of problems with The Master of Disguise, but they can be boiled down pretty quickly. The first is that the film - which is rated PG and aimed at a family audience - parodies movies that are off the target demographic's radar. What 9-year old kid is going to get the references to The Exorcist, Scarface, Jaws, or 10? Adults will certainly get them, but these are such old targets that none of the parodies are even remotely funny.

Of course, neither is much else. Carvey seems to think that assuming two dozen different personas in 80 minutes is enough to make this a workable comedy. His fellow "SNL" alum Mike Myers has done something similar with the Austin Powers series: he plays different characters within the same movie. There is a very crucial difference, however. Myers uses makeup and wardrobe to create fully developed characters (Powers, Dr. Evil, Fat Bastard). Carvey, on the other hand, simply puts on silly costumes and speaks in goofy accents. In other words, Myers uses the disguises as a building block, whereas Carvey uses them as a stopping point. Sitting though The Master of Disguise makes me realize just what a comedic genius Myers is.

An equally significant problem is that this movie is just a plain mess. The plot could have worked more effectively had anyone even remotely cared about it. As things stand, the actual story only runs 70 minutes, at which point we get a full ten minutes of end credits. Interspersed throughout these credits are bloopers, non sequitors to the camera, and deleted scenes. Outtakes have become a standard part of comedy credits, but the deleted scenes are a red flag. To me, they prove that the filmmakers knew they were in trouble. If this many cut scenes had to be forced into the credits just to barely stretch the picture to full length, then its obvious nothing was working. How much footage was deemed too unfunny even for this movie? I don't even know how a major studio like Columbia Pictures can release something as bare bones as this.

The Master of Disguise is intended to make you laugh, but it just made me sad. I've always been a fan of Dana Carvey. How could someone so funny turn out a movie as pathetic as this?

( out of four)

The Master of Disguise is rated PG for mild language and some crude humor. The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes.

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