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Blowing Bubbles 

Scott Fitzgerald said, "There are no second acts in American lives." He wasn't absolutely accurate in that sad assessment, of course, but he was correct that few climb more than one mountain of accomplishment. Fast, strong and phenomenally agile, there was never a more amazing athlete than Michael Jordan, but he couldn't translate his surpassing basketball gifts into professional-level success at baseball or golf. In the entertainment world we can all think of scores who have found success on television and gone on to bomb in the movies. Anybody heard much of David Caruso recently?

John Travolta made the leap, and Jennifer Aniston from the cast of Friends might, but nobody is going to be paying her $20 million a picture anytime soon. A particularly cluttered graveyard of crashed careers is peopled with the professional carcasses of former players on Saturday Night Live. Chevy Chase had a little success early on, but he appears finished. Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd haven't headlined pictures in years. Laraine Newman? Garrett Morris? There's Adam Sandler, of course. He's rich as Croesus, but has he ever gotten a good review? I liked all these performers in their comedy skit work on SNL, even Sandler. And that brings us to Dana Carvey. At his zenith, Carvey was brilliant. His takes on Johnny Carson, George Bush and Ross Perot were scream-out-loud hilarious. But Carvey's talent as a mimic just doesn't translate to feature-length, big-screen work, and if you ever needed proof of that, waste your hard-earned money on his current The Master of Disguise.

Written by Carvey and Harris Goldberg and directed by Perry Andelin Blake, The Master of Disguise is a "comedy" about a family of people who disguise themselves. They are Italian, and they are the Disguisey family (are you laughing yet?). But they aren't the Don Corleone type of Italians. They are Lone Ranger type of Italians. They only do good deeds. Still, they are the kind of people who are forever pulling scams and then reaching behind their heads and pulling off elaborate latex masks that have changed their height, body type, race and gender. You know those masks. They don't sell any around here, but they're all over Hollywood.

Grandpa Disguisey (Harold Gould) looks like Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future, but he's unfortunately not nearly as entertaining. He still lives in Italy. Grandpa's son Frabbrizio (James Brolin) has given up the masking life for reasons that aren't clear. In his last big scam Frabbrizio wore a mask that made him look like Bo Derek and got a low-life named Devlin Bowman (Brent Spiner) put in prison for 23 years. Then Frabbrizio opened an Italian restaurant in New York. Well, 1979 has changed into 2002 and Bowman is out of the slammer and mad enough to chew nails. So Bowman kidnaps Frabbrizio and forces him into impersonating Michael Johnson and Jesse Ventura who, respectively, steal the U.S. Constitution and the Liberty Bell. (Are you laughing now?)

Enter Frabbrizio's son Pistachio (Carvey). Heretofore Pistachio has been noted almost exclusively for being the stupidest human on the planet. But Pistachio is going to have grow up fast if he's to thwart evil and save his shape-shifting pop. Grandpa jets in from Rome to mentor his grandson in the masking and rescuing arts. Together they hire a beautiful female assistant named Jennifer (Jennifer Esposito), who obviously comes from another movie in an alternate galaxy far, far away. And the romantic adventure is on. When things get all squishy and Jennifer and Pistachio kiss, we can't understand why afterwards she doesn't wad her face up like a balled piece of paper, wipe frantically at her lips and make repeated retching sounds.

One can imagine the pitch session that got this movie to the script stage. Capitalize on Carvey's acknowledged strength as a performer and devise a story where he can play a lot of different characters. Fine. What we can't so clearly understand is why somebody ever green-lit the script Carvey came up with. True, he disguises himself as a duplicitous German nerd, an oleaginous '70s disco lizard, a supercilious British twit and for the briefest time a vertiginous George W. Bush. But the only impersonations that elicited any laughs (not from me) were those of a turtle and two types of pie: cherry and cow.

The audience with whom I saw The Master of Disguise was about 50 percent children, and they did laugh at Pistachio's dumping five plates of spaghetti on the heads of a whole table of diners. And, of course, the kids laughed at the endless fart jokes, including the climactic one where the villain becomes a swimming pool aerator. As for my adult and at least somewhat more refined tastes, this was -- how can I put this succinctly? -- the worst movie I've seen. Ever.

click to enlarge Facing the facts: Dana Carvey learns how to hide in plain sight in The Master of Disguise.
  • Facing the facts: Dana Carvey learns how to hide in plain sight in The Master of Disguise.
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