In the year of our lord 2002, I saw the Dana Carvey film, The Master of Disguise, in theaters. It was during a weeklong vacation to Cape Cod. For some reason, my father and our family friend decided to take me, my two brothers, and our family friend’s son (our friend… it’s confusing to refer to one’s family’s friends) to the movies to see the film.
I don’t remember much of that experience, except that right after we had gotten tickets, another family tried to buy some and were told that the showing was sold out. I cannot begin to explain the ways my life would have been different had we been that group.
Apparently, after seeing the film, I was satisfied. In fairness, I was only 6 years old, so moving pictures across a screen were usually enough to satisfy me. But, what was more confusing was my older brother, who was eight at the time, who should have known better.
We were so satisfied, that Christmas, we got the DVD as a gift. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have seen the film nearly a dozen times since then. And every time I watch it, and every time I Google it, I am left with more questions than answers. No answers will be provided in this blog, only explorations of the nuclear meltdown of a film The Master of Disguise.
The Master of Disguise killed Dana Carvey’s career. If you check IMDB, he did not have a starring role in any movie until 2011’s Jack and Jill–another dumpster fire–and even that was almost a cameo. The director of Disguise, Perry Andelin Blake, never directed another film. It would be unthinkable that a movie that made more than twice as much as its budget would kill two careers, had you not seen the film.
For those fortunate enough to avoid Disguise, here is a quick summary that will, no doubt, make zero sense. Dana Carvey plays Pistachio Disguisey (yes, that is his name), an Italian boy/man/child? who works for his parents restaurant in America. Little does he know that the Disguisey family (surprise, surprise) has a long history of disguising itself. However, his father, Fabrizzio, played by the woefully miscast James Brolin, decided to that “this is no life for [his] son. He will never learn of his true destiny.”
Unfortunately for our nutty-named protagonist, Fabrizzio and Pistachio’s mother, whose name I cannot recall, get kidnapped, and with the help of his estranged grandfather, Pistachio uses his genetic predisposition for disguise to get them back and save the day.
Obviously, much of the “humor” from the film is derived from Pistachio’s disguises, which, of course, take advantage of Carvey’s talent at impressions. In total, Pistachio does 21 different impressions (or 20, if you don’t count being a literal pile of shit as an impression). [Exact numbers provided by Johnny Efstathiades (@jefstathiades).]
The first set of questions I will ask is about the impressions he chooses, because, boy, do they make no sense whatsoever. For a character that is supposed to use disguise to get places and information he normally wouldn’t be able to, he sure disguises himself as things that make him stand out. For example, when trying to get invited to the main villain, Devlin Bowman’s (played by Brett Spiner of Star Trek fame) party, he disguises himself as a handsy elderly woman named “Gammy Num-Nums.” This disguise choice is so bad, that he is completely unsuccessful in his mission.
Furthermore, the disguises that Pistachio uses are much less sophisticated that than of his father and grandfather. While all of Pistachio’s disguises look more or less like Dana Carvey in makeup or a wig, those of his father and grandfather are played by completely different actors. These are the logical inconsistencies that can plague one’s mind for years on end.
Having watched the film several times in my adult life, it has dawned on me just how many references in the film went completely over my head as a child. Now, that is something you can probably say about most kids movies. However, there are entire scenes and motifs that could not possibly be gotten by anyone under the age of ten. For example, one of Pistachio’s disguises is basically just Tony Montana of Scarface. What person in the target demographic of the film would have seen Scarface? I get it. Dana can do a decent Al Pacino. But when I was a youngin, he was just a strange guy with a lot of chest hair. Also, for what it’s worth, the classic, outside-of-the-house shot from The Exorcist is recreated. Fun for the whole family.
The Master of Disguise was a big studio film. Several dozen people had to say yes to most of these decisions. It is truly a tragedy that Dana Carvey’s career had to end due to their negligence.
Speaking of tragedies: the Turtle Club scene. Whenever I bring this film up to friends, the only scene any of them ever remember is the Turtle Club scene, and it’s little wonder why. Pistachio, trying to get info from the exclusive Turtle Club, dresses up as a guy who looks like a human turtle. He has a shell on the back of his green suit, thick rimmed glasses, and a bald head. Also, he moves his neck like a turtle, and speaks with the cadence that a turtle would, I suppose.
Obviously, the Turtle Club is actually a lounge for rich gentlemen, but that is no matter for Mr. Disguisey. You would think his assistant, Jennifer Baker (played by Jennifer Esposito), would correct him on this mistake, but nope. Anyway, he gets into the club after Baker, being attractive, convinces the bouncer that it’s been his dream. Once in the Turtle Club, he acquires the information from veteran character actor Eric Avari and then gets made fun of, because he looks like a complete weirdo.
Then, in one of the most puzzling scenes in cinema history, he proceeds get into some kind of scrum with some suited guys. At one point, he literally bites a man’s nose off, drawing no blood, and spits it back onto his face, perfectly. No one makes anything of this. No one says, “Holy shit. This guy is magic. He just ripped a guy’s nose off his face, and put it back on perfectly.” After this, in what is the most confusing editing choice I have ever seen in all of my life, we slow fade to a top down shot of Pistachio break dancing on the floor of the Turtle Club, yelling the word “turtle” for no more than five seconds. This means, that after violently assaulting patrons and not belonging in the first place, they let him break dance unmolested.
However, I have not gotten to the most important detail of the Turtle Club scene. I would not believe this if it were not confirmed by IMDB’s trivia section. The Turtle Club scene, which is without a doubt, the most memorably bad scene from this memorably bad film, was filmed on September 11th, 2001. Apparently, after news of the terrorist attack reached set, the cast and crew held a moment of silence. I wish we could chalk the work they produced up to grief and confusion, but something tells me it didn’t make much of a difference.
None of the characters in this film make any sense. For one, by all accounts, Pistachio Disguisey was raised in America his whole life. However, he retains as thick of an Italian accent as his father and grandfather. What’s more, his grandfather looks no more than ten years older than his father. I don’t know how they casted those roles so poorly.
And that brings us to Jennifer Baker. Why does Jennifer Baker become Pistachio Disguisey’s assistant? Because she needs dental insurance for her son Barney, a name I didn’t think people were still being named after the Reagan administration. This children’s movie had jokes about dental insurance. Yay. Baker is the only competent person for the duration of the film. She, being played by pre-gluten allergy Jennifer Esposito, is way out of Pistachio’s league. Of course, they fall in love anyway.
Which begs the question: what does she see in him? Is there a boyish charm in 47 year old Dana Carvey playing an ambiguously young loser? Throughout the movie, Pistachio demonstrates a half dozen markers of autism and learning disabilities. He is not a schlubby manchild. He is literally a man with the mental capacity of a child. Not to mention the fact that he speaks in the silliest Italian known to man, despite being from the same freaking city as Jennifer Baker.
In case you were wondering, and I know you weren’t, the reason Devlin Bowman kidnaps Fabrizzio is to force him to use his powers of disguise to steal priceless artifacts, like the Apollo 11 module and Liberty to sell on the Black Market. If you were wondering if the aforementioned “Black Market” was a literal online market and not just a general concept, then congratulations, you may have written this movie. Who is purchasing things on the Black Market? Obviously, Kenan Thompson, as “Kenan.”
One of Fabrizzio’s disguises, by the way, is of actress, model, and international icon, Bo Derek. Because movie magic isn’t magic at all, Bo Derek “plays” Fabrizzio disguised as her. If my memory serves me correct, she is on screen for no more than a minute and a half. However, this did not stop her from being nominated for a Razzie for Worst Supporting Actress. It’s that kind of movie.
I just cannot emphasize enough how inane, thoughtless, and, one an occasion or two, racist the disguises are in this movie.
Oh, and I almost forgot. What is the name of the mystical power that gives Disguiseys the ability to disguise? Energico, of course. Energico is not explained at all, and something tells me it’s for the best. If there were a Master of Disguise prequel in which someone explained that his grandfather had abnormally high levels of “Energico,” it would have been a Star Wars/midichlorians-type situation.
Pistachio spends a large duration of the film training to be a Master of Disguise. I suppose this is a good a time as any to mention that the film’s running time is only 80 minutes, and that includes ten minutes of credits. This film almost couldn’t be considered one of the worst movies of all time simply because it was almost not a feature-length movie.
And the during- and post-credits stuff sure is a doozy. For reference on how long this goes on, imagine the shwarma scene at the end of the Avengers. Then imagine that it lasted another nine and a half minutes. Dana Carvey literally performs new characters just during the credits, which suggests that even during principal photography, they knew that their film would be just a nose longer than an episode of True Detective.
And what would a film be without an original score. What original songs are on the soundtrack you ask? There’s M.A.S.T.E.R. Part 1 by Hardhedzz featuring Play. There’s M.A.S.T.E.R. Part 2 by Play featuing Lil’ Fizz from B2K. There’s also Master of Disguise by Vitamin C. The subject of all three of these songs, as should be no surprise, is the Master of Disguise.
I have so, so, so many more questions about this movie. As does my brother Kevin (@mskevinchristie), who aided in writing this tour-de-force. Like, why after almost getting attacked in her fake kitchen set-up, does Pistachio’s mom look at the surveillance camera and say, “No more caramel corn for me” as if she knows Pistachio is watching? Or how exactly did Pistachio get into his cow poop outfit so quickly? Did he have it on him in his Tony Montana outfit? Or did he improvise it with actual cow poop? And why does he get up so quickly after laying on the ground in that outfit? These are all questions that are only appropriate to discuss around other people who have seen the film more than seven times, so I will spare you the exercise.
However, I do still have a copy of the movie in my dorm, so if you would like to watch, I am always available for a movie night.