The Nine Stillborn Lives of "The Master of Disguise"
"Jack of All Disguises, Master of None" is a series that attempts to unpack the complexities of the 2002 children's film The Master of Disguise starring Dana Carvey. On Day 1, I take a closer look at the nine different endings in the film.
The Master of Disguise is considered one of the worst comedies of all time, and the effective end of comedian Dana Carvey's career. Though broad, these opinions aren't far off - since the film tanked with critics, Carvey has appeared in two films - one where he played George H.W. Bush for the umpteenth time, the other notorious Adam Sandler flop Jack and Jill in a bit part. What happened? Thirteen cursed years later, let's take another look.
TMoD stars a 46-year-old Dana Carvey in a last-ditch attempt to revive his post-SNL career by tapping into a tactic that his Wayne's World costar and longtime writing partner Mike Meyers had done a year before with Shrek, and for the adult crowd with the Austin Powers franchise (Goldmember came out just weeks before TMoD). The Carvey vehicle would bring in forty million dollars, more than double its budget and to Carvey's credit, kids loved it. Here's my 2002 review of the film, written at age ten:
Below this review is a five-star rating of the episode of Gilmore Girls where Rory loses her virginity. That one I stand by.
TMoD stars Carvey (SNL, Wayne’s World) as - hold your breath and hide the gun - Pistachio Disguisey, perhaps the single worst character name since my college comedy troupe's ill-conceived "Sam Francisco" sketch. Pistachio works at his macho father's restaurant, where he must constantly hold back the strong desire to mock those around him. One of the film's earliest laughs is when Pistachio proudly announces that he is twenty-three years old, and one of the only lines that isn't meant to elicit a laugh.
When his parents are kidnapped by villain Devlin Bowman (Brent Spiner), Pistachio learns that he comes from a long line of Masters of Disguise by exposition machine Grandfather Disguisey (Harold Gould). Grandfather proves his skill by spewing ADR lines from a Hispanic maid who probably didn't even get her SAG card because she didn't technically say anything.
Pistachio and Grandfather need help and recruit neighborhood hottie Jennifer Esposito (Crash, "Jennifer's Way - Learn To Live Again...Gluten Free"), a single mom who accompanies Pistachio through a number of bad impressions that win over her heart, even though there's no way she could enjoy the pasta at the Disguisey establishment without becoming afflicted by unsexy digestion problems.
Sixty-eight minutes in, the movie ends, creating a need for additional content to reach the eighty minutes that the $16 million budget manages to clear, down to the second. Fortunately, there appears to be hours and millions of dollars that dropped to the cutting room floor, and the audience is presented with a buffet of garbage to choose from.
In a way, it's never really over.
First Ending: Pistachio Disguisey becomes the Master of Disguise.
After sixty-eight minutes of Italian accents, ass fixation and skateboarding dogs we reach the official ending of the film, in which farting villain Devlin Bowman (Brent Spiner) is defeated and Pistachio's father is rescued through a never-fully-explained plot device called "Energico." Jennifer Esposito is released from Bowman's clutches as a PG sex slave who can't digest a bagel like you or me.
Pistachio becomes an official Master of Disguise and leaves Bowman's lair with family members and superior actors Fabbrizio Disguisey/James Brolin and Grandfather Disguisey/Harold Gould. The end.
Moments later, we segue into the film's first epilogue, a grim sequence where Carvey resorts to toting his most egregious character out of the closet for what turns out to not be the last time in his career.
Second Ending: George W. Bush Impression & Fortissimo Fart
For a remorseless tome penned by two depressed middle-aged men, The Master of Disguise doesn't date itself quite as badly as most marquis kids movies tend to, save for the glaring Shrek shoutout in an early scene. Carvey figures there is no better time to blow this slim redeeming quality by reprising a lukewarm George W. Bush impression from his SNL years, already nine years in the rearview at the time of shooting.
George spews out two of the four catchphrases TMoD uses inconsistently throughout the film in the hopes that someone will deem it lunchbox-worthy - "Who's your daddy?" and "This is what you're doing. This is what I want you to do" - before flipping him into a pool. Bowman delivers a final fart crescendo, and the movie transitions to its third ending, credits.
Third Ending: Forced Cast Dancing, Discarded Dana Carvey Characters, Unrealistic Epilogue
In this underrated ending that is the first decisive conclusion to the film, the cast mugs their way through a final (just kidding there are six more endings) bow in a world where Jennifer Esposito would marry a man named Pistachio Disguisey.
We're treated a number of bloopers in which characters that never appear make their first and final entrance, for some reason in a hallway. There's an entire scene where Carvey is dressed as a caveman and is eaten by a dinosaur. The shooting script for this movie was likely three hours long.
As I watch Esposito flouncing around in a wedding dress that almost certainly originated from the same consignment sale trunk that most of Carvey's cartoonish numbers came from, I wonder if she is suffering. Has she eaten gluten on this day? How bad is Celiac's disease hurting our Jennifer on top of the written and rewritten TMoD script? It's kind of like watching Owen Wilson movies from the era where you know he wants to kill himself.
Then, James Brolin spanks himself and receives millions of dollars.
Fourth Ending: Same as the First Ending, But with Ass
Ass is an important theme in TMoD and arguably one of Pistachio's main character motivations, though from Carvey's nuanced performance, you'd think it were to get a meatball pregnant.
The alternative to the first ending appears to have been deemed too sexist to serve as the real conclusion, but not too sexist for three minutes later. Bowman unleashes a quartet of thin, big-assed women to tempt the probably huge penis of the definitely twenty-three-year-old Pistachio, who shrieks in defense of his poor girlfriend, Jennifer "Get That Bread Out of My Face" Esposito.
"Love is thicker than your behinds!" Carvey proclaims, scuttling back to his barley-free goddess.
The women sulk away, presumably upset that they don't get to ride that youthful and able to impersonate Russell Crowe dick.
Fifth Ending: So Many Bloopers That They Run Out of Credits
There's no shortage of hot bloops and big goofs in the final moments of TMoD. This sequence gives particular focus to Carvey's first character in the film, an incredible sequence in which the actor transforms from an Italian stereotype into an Indian stereotype in full brownface.
We reach a point in the blooper reel three full minutes before TMoD releases the audience from its vice grip and four minutes after most of the audience has left, where there are no more credits. It becomes so wrenchingly urgent to show images of a discarded Dracula character that doing dances rarely seen out of a bar mitzvah that we are goaded to stay.
As the longest ending of the movie winds down and post-production begins assigning one name per five seconds of film, there's a clip of yet another deleted sequence featuring Carvey as an obese toymaker and Jennifer "'s Way" Esposito wearing what is 100% a pre-teen costume from iParty. She is pouting because she is sad to be in this movie, and because she has Celiac's disease.
Sixth Ending: The Passion of the Slapping Dummy
At this point, I've been on the "When will this movie end?" Gravitron for so long that I've begun to lift from the floor, my cheap stinky sneakers lifting from the cheaper, stinkier floor and into a new plane of being.
Then, there's been a midget in a Mario costume inside the prop "Slapping Dummy," for the entire film. This move adds no plot but a hell of a lot of meaning sheerly based of how furious this midget is, and the question of how long he's actually been in there. Wearing what is clearly a fake moustache and eyebrows, he shrieks yet another dropped catchphrase from the film - "You slap me, I slap you" - then chases Carvey into the streets, where we are to understand the lead gets beaten severely.
Pistachio tries to reason with the Nintendo-clad actor (Gabriel Pimentel), but is only slapped and chased. To what end? Did Nintendo ask for this?
While some call the Slapping Dummy TMoD's jumping the shark moment, I say no. In its opening credits it has already hurdled over three sharks and flipped off the Shrek franchise with a self-assurance reserved for serial killers and failed actors, and shoehorning this imaginative, unneccessary detail in is one of my most treasured TMoD moments. If it counts.
Seventh Ending: Pistachio and Slapping Midget post-mortem.
The music and images fade down as Pistachio is pursued by the Dummy, then immediately fades back up to reveal the two have reconciled and are discussing personal anecdotes while drinking cold brown juice.
"I like to slap a lot," Slapping Dummy deadpans, not yet knowing his next major film credit will be Looney Tunes: Back in Action.
"What are you people still doing here?" Carvey asks the camera after a moment, breaking the fourth wall. Oh, Jesus Christ, I don't know.
"You just saw the movie, okay?" he insists. BUT HE'S BLUFFING!
Eighth Ending: I'm sad.
Of course it isn't over. Fade to black, and then a moment of profound ADR pathos.
"Pistachio, I'm sad," Slapping Dummy laments, and he isn't even talking about poor Jennifer Esposito and her hilarious Celiac's disease. "I didn't get to say goodbye."
Fade back up to Pistachio, Slapping Dummy and brown juice waving. There are nineteen seconds left before Netflix will autoplay Holes.
Ninth Ending: Humanlike CGI Dog From the Early Aughts
As they say, a bad movie isn't over until the dog with human eyes rides a skateboard as the uncanny valley burns to a crisp, consuming us all.
Tomorrow: The Ballad of Dana Carvey