The Master of Disguise

(Perry Andelin Blake, USA, 2002)


Dana Carvey is Pistachio Disguisey – and disguisey is a word that every member of this film's cast loves to savour, over and over.

Like Woody Allen's character of Zelig, Pistachio has an identity problem; he tends to take on the intonations and even the features of those he encounters.

But this is not, as with Zelig, a matter of psychopathology. Pistachio does not yet know that he is the latest in a long line of Masters of Disguise. But when his father, Fabbrizio (James Brolin) is kidnapped by the evil and rather flatulent Bowman (Brent Spiner), Pistachio must be introduced to his true destiny by Grandfather (Harold Gould).

Movies do not come much scrappier than The Master of Disguise. Some elaborate gags disappear before their punch line arrives. The plot is merely a parodic string of various espionage, evil genius, mystical power and dark-side clichés. The old joke of characters peeling off impossible disguise masks – in the opening scene, Bo Derek digitally metamorphoses into Fabbrizio – is trotted out gamely.

Carvey, however, is a delight in his many guises, especially when he mimics Al Pacino in Scarface (1983). Director Perry Andelin Blake has the good sense not to whip up any sentimental, inner life for this ridiculous hero. He also maintains a good joke around Pistachio's sidekick and supposed love interest, Jennifer (Jennifer Esposito), who never seems the slightest bit impressed by anything she witnesses.

There was a fad, during the latter half of the '80s, for films that would include over their closing credits outtakes of not merely fluffed scenes but occasionally glimpses of entire subplots that had been removed in the final edit. Today, there is a new impetus for this sort of excess: the growing necessity to have profuse, wild and wonderful extras on a film's DVD release.

The Master of Disguise is, effectively, barely an hour long, but it starts up again at the end credits, showcasing at least a dozen, major sequences not in the movie.

It is a strange and heady moment indeed in pop culture history when some films openly avow themselves to be re-sortable collections of bits and pieces.

© Adrian Martin January 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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