Pretty much the definition of a kids-will-like/parents-will-hate-it movie, “The Master of Disguise” is a jumbled fantasy comedy that — judging from the endless final credits snips from presumably deleted scenes, without which pic would barely scrape the 70-minute mark — did not figure out a coherent game plan at scripting, shooting or post-production stages. Nonetheless, vehicle for Dana Carvey as a chameleonic crime-fighting imbecile is noisy, colorful and fart-gag-filled enough to amuse undiscriminating auds under the age of 10. B.O. in a summer field already crowded with bigger, better family pics will likely be just OK. Once “Master” is available as a rewindable baby sitter, however, it should mint coin quite nicely. As for franchise aspirations writ all over pic, that too may fly best — if at all — in direct-to-video sequels.
Feature reps debut helming effort for Perry Andelin Blake, hitherto known as a production designer — notably on all of Adam Sandler’s star vehicles, with that gent returning the favor as an exec producer here. Most consistently pro elements in “Master” are indeed in the visual design department. Yet even those are a mishmash of whimsical/comic ideas that never quite connect.
After the deliberately “Harry Potter”-esque opening credits sequence, there’s an amusing enough 1979 prologue in which international black marketer Devlin Bowman (Brent Spiner) and his minions fail to catch a spy — the alarmingly well-preserved Bo Derek, in full “10” braided-hair regalia. Bo “really” turns out to be Frabbrizio Disguisey (James Brolin), scion of a family that’s passed down master disguise skills over generational centuries. Bowman ends up spending the next two decades in hoosegow.
By that term’s end, Frabbrizio has long since given up global intrigue for a Stateside Italian restaurant run with wife Mama (Edie McClurg, one natural albeit under-used comic talent here) and inept waiter son Pistachio (Carvey). Dad has kept his only child innocent of the clan legacy, though this talent often sneaks out irrepressibly via rude impersonations of rude people.
When the vengeful Bowman kidnaps Papa and Mama, Pistachio must save them. He’s aided by the sudden appearance of Grandpa (Harold Gould), who trains the young nitwit in “Disguisey” mastery. As assistant, the duo hire comely single mom Jennifer (Jennifer Esposito), whose accident-prone tyke, Barney (Austin Wolff), has already been befriended by our hero.
Cluttered yet lacking any real narrative momentum, pic becomes a series of dum-dum set pieces in which Carvey riffs aimlessly but strenuously as various unamusing characters. Among them are silly costume-stunt conceits (Turtle Man, Cherry Pie Man, even Human Cow Pie), ethnic stereotypes (Indian, Bavarian, Brit) and movie in-jokes (he does Robert Shaw in “Jaws,” voice-impersonates dialogue from “Shrek,” etc.).
Meanwhile, dad is forced by Bowman to steal U.S. national treasures — the Constitution, the Liberty Bell, a space shuttle — while disguised as teen popster Jessica Simpson, wrestler-politico Jesse Ventura and superstar runner Michael Johnson. Latter all play themselves, to no special benefit beyond name/face recognition.
Pic scarcely seems to have established itself when it arrives at a rote climax as Pistachio rescues mom, dad and Jennifer from the villain’s lair. There follows a dreadful epilogue that has Carvey impersonating our nation’s current prez, then much-stretched-out closing credits featuring supposed bloopers, outtakes and scene excerpts in which star does yet more uninspired wacky characters that apparently didn’t make final cut.
“Master of Disguise” is an awful mess by any grown-up standards, but for better or worse it’s probably not half bad when considered from a grade school p.o.v. Lack of wit or coherence won’t matter to viewers who just want slapstick, simple bad taste yoks and fast-paced goofiness.
Co-scenarist (with Harris Goldberg of “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo”) Carvey has had a rough time finding his niche since “Saturday Night Live” and the “Wayne’s World” pics. His funny business here underlines the importance of good material — entirely absent here — for versatile comic talents, but young auds may respond to the sheer exertion nonetheless. After all, they liked the first “Ace Ventura” movie.
One hopes Brolin’s Italian accent was intended to be clueless. Spiner endures a character whose every villainous rant is punctuated by rectal toot. The beauteous Esposito, who’s proven her acting chops in TV’s “Spin City” and Spike Lee’s “Summer of Sam,” deserves some sort of prize for having to maintain passive interest during innumerable scenes showcasing Carvey’s painful wackiness. It’s surely the most thankless acting job seen onscreen in recent months.
Design contribbers come off best, patchwork as “Master” still seems. Other tech aspects are pro.