1,000 faces…and not a single clue.
For a while it seemed as if ex-Saturday Night Live funnyman Dana Carvey pulled a disappearing act on audiences. After starring in the hit sequel Wayne's World 2 and a few box office bombs (Clean Slate, Trapped in Paradise), Carvey vanished from moviegoers' radars and subsequently went through botched open-heart surgery in 1997, which eventually led to a lawsuit and five other surgeries. Without any new work and health troubles, Carvey's future wasn't looking very bright. 2002 found the comedic performer back in the saddle with the kid-friendly summer comedy The Master of Disguise. Featuring Carvey in a tour-de-force performance as multiple characters, The Master of Disguise makes its way to DVD care of Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Mild-mannered Pistachio Disguisey (Carvey) lives a quaint life as a bumbling waiter at his father's Italian restaurant. What Pistachio doesn't know is that his family tree harbors a mysterious secret: the power of disguise! Ever since Pistachio was a child, he's been able to mock various people he's come in contact with. This talent proves invaluable when Pistachio's father (James Brolin, Traffic) and mother (Edie McClurg, Ferris Bueller's Day Off) are kidnapped by the dastardly Devlin Bowman (Brent Spiner, Star Trek: Nemesis) who wants to use the Disguisery's hidden talents to steal priceless treasures! Pistachio is introduced to his heritage by his cantankerous grandfather (Harold Gould, Stuart Little), who shows him the way of the disguise through training, technique, and a little hand-to-hand combat (followed by the battle cry "Who's your daddy?"). Soon Pistachio is able to disguise himself as wacky characters like the smooth Terry Suave, the weird Turtle Guy, and the elderly Gammy Num Nums. With the aide of his attractive assistant Jennifer (Jennifer Esposito, Spin City), Pistachio must figure out a way to save his folks and stop Devlin before he steals the world's greatest historical artifacts!
Thinly veiled as a comedy, The Master of Disguise drones on and on and on and on and on…and the dang thing is only 80 minutes long! Let me start by saying that Dana Carvey is a funny guy. On SNL Carvey's characters were often the centerpiece of the night—Hanz and Franz, The Church Lady, Garth Elgar. I want to reiterate: Dana Carvey is a funny guy.
The Master of Disguise, on the other hand, is not a very funny movie. The whole thing feels like padding so Carvey can try out various voices and expressions that aren't very amusing. Yes, a few of them to do entertain; the strange Turtle Guy made me chuckle, and Carvey's impersonation of President George W. Bush was cute. Unfortunately, that's about it—everything feels as if it was in the preliminary stages, yet somehow it was decided to cut and print the rehearsals as the final film. The movie's biggest stumbling block is in the editing; Carvey's "gags" drone on endlessly, almost as if the actor was hoping the next sentence out of his mouth would finally hit comedic paydirt. This payoff never comes into fruition.
The plot is almost non-existent with little in the way of characterization or theme. Hey, this is Carvey's show, so why spoil it with something as trite as clever or witty writing? The story has to do with a criminal mastermind trying to steal various objects of value from around the world. Whoop-dee-do. The mediocrity of the film should come to no surprise considering who executive produced this dud: the one and only Adam Sandler (Little Nicky, Happy Gilmore). There is a running gag throughout the film that has Sandler's prints all over it: Brent Spiner's character laughs and talks like a maniac, then accidentally farts to complete and utter silence. This joke was used approximately seven times, which was approximately seven times too many.
I'm a little shocked that respected thespians like James Brolin and Harold Gould agreed to do this shoddy little flick. I'm sure Brent Spiner is looking to do anything to live down his role as the robotic Data from the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation. As for Carvey, he should be living down this film for a long time to come. Wayne's World 3, anyone?
The Master of Disguise is presented in a disappointing 1.33:1 pan and scan transfer. Is it too much to ask for a widescreen transfer along with a full frame one? In 1997 this may have passed muster; in 2003, there's no excuse for a big budget movie to not include the widescreen version, even if the film in question is aimed primarily at kids. Anyhow, Columbia's work on this 1.33:1 transfer is adequate, if a bit undesirable. The colors and black levels are all spot on and even without any major edge enhancement marring the image. The only major flaw I spotted (aside of the pan and scan hack job) was a small amount of softness from time to time. Otherwise this is a clear looking picture, at least for a full frame transfer (and did I mention I hate pan and scan?).
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English, French, and Spanish. This is a better than average sound mix with directional effects and surround sounds blended between both the front and rear soundstage of the track. Though the soundtrack isn't always bombastic or heavy, this is a nice sound mix that should give any home theater system a mild workout. All aspects of the mix are free and clear of any excessive hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Though I wouldn't consider this DVD a "special edition," The Master of Disguise does include a few decent extra features. Here's a rundown of what's on the disc:
Commentary Track by Director Perry Andelin Blake and Dana Carvey: This track was pretty much what I was expecting: lighthearted and very goofy. Carvey often brings out a few of his old time impressions (including Hans and Franz) with a lot of production info thrown around for good measure. Since the film is short, this track clips along briskly. I found this commentary track to be entertaining, possibly even more so than the film.
Alternate and Deleted Scenes: Included here are five deleted scenes and one alternate ending, each with a very unfunny introduction by Dana Carvey as the Turtle Guy. Most of these are just scene extensions that were justifiably trimmed from the final cut of the film. The alternate ending tends to go on and on and isn't all that interesting. Frustratingly, all of these deleted scenes are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
Three Featurettes: "The Magic of Disguise," "Identity Crisis," and "Man of a Thousand Faces": Each of these three featurettes focuses on various aspects of the film (the visual effects, the make-up, behind-the-scenes shenanigans). Included on each short feature are interviews with actors Carvey, Jennifer Esposito, Harold Gould, and Brent Spiner, director Perry Blake, effects master Kevin Yagher, and more. If you're looking to learn a little more about the casting and production, watch "Identity Crisis." For info on the effects and costumes, watch the other two featurettes. All of these are actually pretty entertaining and better than the usual promotional fluff.
The Master of Disguise will entertain small children and folks who have slipped into a blissful state of vegetation. While I can't say I didn't laugh at all (total chuckles: 1 1/2), the ratio between entertainment and boredom was very unbalanced. Columbia's work on this DVD is decent, though they're docked multiple points for the film's hideous full frame transfer.
The Master of Disguise is sentenced to ten days watching the far superior (and much funnier) 1990 disguise movie Darkman.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Perry Andelin Blake and Dana Carvey
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