Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Thinly Disguised Comeback Attempt

by Jason Pyles

Writing meaningfully about this “Worst Movies Ever” series is already more difficult than I thought.

I first saw “The Master of Disguise” in 2003, with professional pianist Paul Cardall. I absolutely despised it, concluding at the time that it was the worst movie ever made. But it’s not. There are worse movies. But after having detested it over the past six years in my mind, when I forced myself to revisit it, I came to realize that it’s not as bad as I thought, even though it’s still decidedly unpleasant.

Dana Carvey used to be something special … or, at least, the junior high Jason remembers him that way. And perhaps it’s merely that phenomenon where you’re gravely disappointed in something as an adult, even though it impressed you in your youth. Maybe that’s my problem with Carvey.

But maybe not: According to his filmography on, Dana Carvey hasn’t acted in anything since this movie. Indeed, what appeared to have been some kind of puny comeback attempt may have actually killed his career altogether. And Carvey bears more responsibility than just acting in this movie — he was also a co-writer.

In simplest terms, “The Master of Disguise” is both sad and embarrassing. Assuming that Carvey’s Saturday Night Live heyday truly deserved admiration, this movie is humiliating. Most of the characters he does impressions of aren’t even worth impersonating. Aside from the singular, semi-humorous highlight of the movie, his “Turtle Club” member, and possibly his Al Pacino impression and Robert Shaw’s “Quint” character from “Jaws,” Carvey falls flat on his face and looks like an amateur.

And that’s the reason for the depths of this movie’s badness: Sure, the writing and story line are both awful, but we could possibly overlook those if the star met our expectations. “The Master of Disguise” was meant to be a vehicle for Carvey to show off his silly impersonation talent, so the one thing we’re hopeful about fails us, too. In short, his impressions are so disappointing, Carvey crashes the vehicle and the movie falls apart.

And perhaps the low-point of the movie is when he spills spaghetti on the customers’ heads, and he says, “I clean. I clean,” and sprinkles cheese on them. I know there are probably a handful of Americans unintelligent enough to think that’s humorous, but picture standing off camera on the set during the filming of that scene. When the director said “Cut!,” was there laughter? No way. I’d bet money it was awkwardly quiet, and Carvey and the actors who had spaghetti on their heads probably wondered what they were doing with their lives. You’d think that was the low point, but then there’s also the cow-pie disguise …

In the end, we must remember that “The Master of Disguise” was intended for 9- to 12-year-olds, kids who were the same age I was back when I thought Dana Carvey was funny. But when those kids revisit this movie again in about 20 years, they’re going to be deeply disappointed.

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