Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Decade of Dreck #19: The Master of Disguise

Charge Shot!!! is celebrating the end of the decade in the most masochistic way we know how - by watching and writing about the 100 worst movies of the last ten years as defined by film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Click here to see RT's complete list, click here for more about the Decade of Dreck project, and click here to see all of the movies we've done so far

I have a friend who owns a copy of The Master of Disguise on DVD. I've long used this fact to refute any point he makes, not just as to his taste in movies, but as to any subject. Political preference? Favorite food? "You own Master of Disguise on DVD!" is a damning enough statement to dismiss any of his opinions as automatically irrelevant.

So imagine my shame when I called him up and asked if I could borrow the disk. I had never actually seen the film, but I had long been aware of its less than stellar reputation - it was so bad that it effectively killed Dana Carvey's career, forcing him to use the old "spend time with the kids" excuse and retire from showbiz.

"But Dana Carvey is funny!" is my friend's defense of his possession. Carvey can do a decent impression; I'll give him that. Garth from Wayne's World is one of his more memorable creations, and his impersonations of both Bush presidents are very funny. But the most bizarre thing about The Master of Disguise is how little time Carvey actually spends doing impressions at all. Instead, he spends the majority of the film acting like that hyperactive kid you sat next to in the fifth grade who was really good at making goofy voices. Carvey's movie is the paragon of such prepubescent humor, except that fifth graders are better at making fart jokes than this film can ever dream of.

Carvey stars as Pistachio Disguisey, the scion of a long line of Masters of Disguise, who have used their powers throughout history to fight crime, or something like that. When Pistachio's father is kidnapped by a pudgy, flatulent, bearded Brent Spiner (of Star Trek fame!), it's up to Pistachio to tap into his latent powers of disguise (called "energico") and mount a rescue.

Yes, the setup is idiotic. But that's not damning in and of itself; a lot of comedies have ridiculous premises. Carvey is trying to go for something like Jim Carrey did in The Mask. But where Carrey can (occasionally) pull off some really funny scenes with nothing but his radiant energy and a few silly faces, Carvey has no such talent. He spends his time nattering away nonstop, as if the strategy is that perhaps a few funny lines will slip into the plethora of nonsensical babble. It doesn't.

Also, it seems that Pistachio is mildly retarded. That's really the only excuse for his actions. I guess all those Italian-American Heritage groups are too busy bitching about The Sopranos or Jersey Shore, because they really should be all up in arms about this one. The Disguiseys are the worst Italian stereotypes this side of the Super Mario Brothers. Pistachio speaks in broken English despite having lived in America all his life. He loves Olive Garden, and he runs a pasta restaurant with his parents. Basically, in The Master of Disguise, being Italian amounts to being mentally challenged, and you're also required to make some sort of goofy face every thirty seconds.

And even though the movie exists solely as a vehicle to show off Carvey's talent at impersonation, it fails in that regard too. Half the disguises require none of Carvey's skill at all - one scene has him dress up like a cherry pie, another as a field of grass. A few other disguises, such as a Swami snake charmer, and a Bavarian tax collector, are so lazy with their racial stereotypes as to make them just dull. Carvey fails to lend any sort of character to his alter egos, instead counting on mere silly voices to carry the humor.

The movie clocks in at a whopping 77 minutes, and that includes 3 minutes of opening credits and 8 minutes of closing credits. By my calculations, this puts The Master of Disguise at about the length of your average TV show. But it's one of those movies that feels like an eternity - the 66 minutes of plot includes multiple scenes of Carvey staring at big butts (the Diguiseys have a preference for large posteriors), a slapfight between two grown men shouting "Who's your daddy?", throwaway gags about The Exorcist and Jaws that aren't really jokes so much as mere references, and Brent Spiner farting at least five times.

The apex of absurdity comes when Pistachio must dress up as a turtle to enter a exclusive club (don't ask). One of the club members picks a fight with Turtle-Pistachio, and Turtle-Pistachio bites off his nose.

Yes, Dana Carvey, dressed as a turtle, bites off his goddamn nose. Let that sink in. The characters on the screen (and myself) sit there in dumbfounded silence as Carvey makes an obnoxious giggle and then (I'm having trouble typing this, but I swear it's true) spits the nose back on the man's face. Turtle-Pistachio then collapses onto the floor giggling and starts writhing around in some sort of spinning dance move as the scene fades out.

This might be the most appalling scene I have ever experienced. I've seen many bad movies that are at least enjoyable in a masochistic sense, but this Turtle-Pistachio scene goes beyond any of them. As you watch, it veers from unfunny to nonsensical to pathetic, finally lapping itself to become twice as unfunny as it was before. Just thinking about it makes me cringe.

I'm not sure how this will affect my friendship with my pal who let me borrow the film. At first, I considered simply throwing away the DVD for his own good, thus also saving others from a similar fate. The old Chris might have done that, but the new, post-Master of Disguise Chris doesn't think his friend deserves that sort of mercy. Possession of this movie must be met with fire and brimstone. In a world that not only lets this film exist, but allows cameo appearances by Jesse Ventura and Jessica Simpson, how can there be any place left for pity?

The Master of Disguise is ranked #18 on the Rotten Tomatoes Worst 100 list with 2% freshness. Its RT page can be found here.