With its big-butt jokes, repeated references to flatulence, tired Italian stereotypes and scattered celebrity cameos, Dana Carvey's "The Master of Disguise" is a disjointed film that, but for brief flashes of comedic verve, should skip theatrical release and go straight to video.
That's a shame, because Carvey set out to make a family flick - and indeed, whenever he dons a costume and takes on a zany role, he is funny. But playing sketch scenes a la "Saturday Night Live" is one thing; tying them into a coherent whole that sidesteps cliches and packs plotline zip is another.
Carvey stars as Pistachio Disguisey, an Italian waiter who works in his father's restaurant. All his life, he's twisted his identity and imitated his customers without knowing why. It turns out his dad, Fabbrizio (James Brolin), has come from a long line of Italian disguise masters, known for their ability to foil crimes. But Fabbrizio, once a crime fighter, has kept this a secret.
When one of dad's enemies gets out of jail after 20 years, he kidnaps him and Pistachio's mom (Edie McClurg). It is then that Pistachio's grandfather (Harold Gould) shows up to teach the secrets of disguise and help him find his parents.
Carvey hires an assistant (Jennifer Esposito) and begins donning a series of cloaks to find clues. One scene features Carvey as a huge turtle; he is trying to access the swank "Turtle Club," where villain Bowman (Brent Spiner) is a member.
It doesn't make much sense, but watching Carvey imitate a bald reptile in a lather is worth a belly laugh.
Elsewhere, Bo Derek, Jessica Simpson and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura make cameos, but not to great effect. They, like Carvey, are bogged down in a film where the bad guys are all bad, the good guys are all good and the love story is as predictable as a nursery rhyme.
Even the music is tired: The soundtrack features the done-to-death Katrina and the Waves song "Walking On Sunshine." Why is this film so bad? Like Pistachio, we could go searching for clues. Adam Sandler, who hasn't made a decent comedy in a dog's age, is one of the executive producers. Carvey, the main writer, may have been better served to concentrate on the acting alone.
In the end, the film runs a healthy reel of outtakes, and how telling they are. Many are cut scenes delivered in rapid-fire fashion - and surprisingly, they deliver more consistent laughs than the movie itself.
1 1/2 stars (out of 4)
"The Master of Disguise"
Directed by Perry Andelin Blake; screenplay by Dana Carvey, Harris Goldberg; photographed by Peter Lyons Collister; edited by Peck Prior, Sandy Solowitz; production design by Alan Au; produced by Sid Ganis, Alex Siskin, Barry Bernardi, Todd Garner. A Revolution Studios release; opens Friday, Aug. 2. Running time: 1:20. MPAA rating: PG (mild language, some crude humor).
Pistachio - Dana Carvey
Jennifer - Jennifer Esposito
Grandfather - Harold Gould
Fabbrizio - James Brolin
Bowman - Brent Spiner
Mother - Edie McClurg
Sophia - Maria Canals Barney - Austin Wolff
Lou Carlozo is a Chicago Tribune Staff Writer.