The Master of Disguise

Despite the tendency of criticism to find itself in a state of surprise when confronted with moving pictures amid faceless people and darkness, with no advantage visible, there might be a spectacle or two every so often that makes critics sit up and take notice, apart from the winds of publicity driving industrial galleys down the well-worn avenue. But there is a fraternity of critics nearly as sheltered as the Turtle Club mercilessly satirized here, they peep out and retreat amongst themselves with a handbag full of notions they carry with them, that may or may not apply.

The Master of Disguise, however, knows its business thoroughly, and even comes disguised as something else, a sendup of Jumanji, say. Inside that is a series of satires built up to monumental proportions, always with a quiet detachment that seems calculated to play in our movie theaters, where a door clicking shut sounds like a gunshot, and a gunshot sounds like a hand grenade. The best example is the finale, which is so complicated it cannot be described but plays on film with the utmost ease. As briefly as possible, it can be said to involve the Lunar Excursion Module from Apollo 11, stolen by the Master’s father in disguise as Jessica Simpson and hidden in the villain’s underground lair alongside the Liberty Bell, the Constitution of the United States, the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and many other treasures. The villain has secured a mask of himself onto the father’s face with Crazy Glue, the son is dangling from an antenna while the father suffers a “dark side” conversion out of Star Wars, the son reawakens an old memory by pulling out his own underwear and putting it atop his head the way he did in his childhood when practicing disguises, as shown in the opening scenes.

It’s an Italian family in the restaurant business. James Brolin and Edie McClurg are the parents, he reacts to his son’s early mischief with hand on elbow, head in hand, like Jack Benny. The villain keeps her merrily occupied in a faux kitchen with drugged caramel corn.

Harold Gould appears out of The Exorcist as the grandfather to indoctrinate the boy with the ancient lore of the Disguiseys, which he teaches out of a centuries-old Tuscan pop-up book. Jennifer Esposito is the single mother hired to be the Master’s assistant, who naturally wants to know the details of the Delta Dental plan. The villain is Brent Spiner, who laughs his evil laugh until he farts.