The Master of Disguise is, hands-down, the best James Brolin-in-an-Italian-accent movie ever.
There, that should satisfy all those who believe in the old adage about not saying anything at all if you can't say anything nice. Because that's about the only nice thing that can be said about this tired, juvenile, tedious and hopelessly witless embarrassment that's really nothing more than an excuse for Dana Carvey to use a lot of makeup and try out a host of different accents.
Granted, Carvey is a nice guy, and he's more talented than his never-ignited big-screen career suggests. And it's nice to have him back after botched heart surgery took him out of circulation for a few years. But couldn't he have found something better than this for his return?
Not that its awfulness should come as any big surprise: Any movie with a central character named Pistachio Disguisey already has 2.9 strikes against it. The movie never never gets any more clever.
Young Pistachio, it seems, is the latest in a long line of Disguiseys, Italian masters of - you guessed it! - disguise who for generations have used their talents to protect the world and its treasures from evildoers. Pistachio's father, however (Brolin, sounding like Chico Marx), after a particularly perilous mission, vows his son will never follow in the family footsteps. The poor guy had to dress up like Bo Derek, so you can understand his pain.
The roots of the Disguisey family tree run deep, however, and Pistachio's birthright is not so easily denied. When an evil collector named Devlin Bowman (Brent Spiner) kidnaps Pistachio's parents and forces his father to help him steal such priceless icons as the Liberty Bell, Constitution and Bruce Willis' hairpiece, the youngest Disguisey is forced into action.
Unfortunately, we're forced to watch his action, and that's where our pain comes in. Carvey, adopting a cloying Italian accent that's the theatrical equivalent of nails on a chalkboard, plays incessantly on the movie's central joke: that the bumbling Pistachio is really too nice and too simple for such shenanigans. Try as he might, he just can't get with the program. Thus, when he and his lovely assistant, Jennifer (a game Jennifer Esposito, one of the movie's few bright spots), try to infiltrate a high-class watering hole called the Turtle Club, he shows up disguised as a turtle. To escape pursuers while running through a field, he disguises himself as a mound of cow dung. To get into Bowman's office, he impersonates a cherry pie.
Trust me, all of that sounds funnier than it actually is. And it doesn't actually sound all that funny.
The Master of Disguise is a lame idea lamely executed. Carvey has done some funny impersonations before, especially during his stint on Saturday Night Live, but none of them show up here. The film even finds an excuse for him to get dressed up as Abraham Lincoln and be jaw-droppingly unfunny.
The humor here is relentlessly juvenile, and not even the kids in the audience seemed to like it much. The only thing that got a laugh was Spiner's character's unwavering knack for ending every maniacal laugh with a burst of flatulence. By the ninth or 10th toot, not even that was getting a laugh.
Even when the move ends, the pain doesn't; as the credits roll, about five minutes of flubs, outtakes and comic mayhem plays out onscreen. When the screen went dark, a young boy behind me turned to his mother and asked plaintively, "Is this movie finally over?"
Yes, and only about 80 minutes too late.
The Master of Disguise
Starring Dana Carvey
Directed by Perry Andelin Blake
Released by Columbia Pictures
Rated PG (mild language and some crude humor)
Time 80 minutes