In Opportunity Knocks, Dana Carvey joins a strangely honorable tradition of gifted Saturday Night Live stars who are washouts in the movies. Like Joe Piscopo and Christopher Guest before him, Carvey is an example of the master impressionist as blank slate. When he dons somebody else’s mannerisms, he can be richly, scathingly satirical — a subversive artist launching kamikaze assaults on a dishonest world. His George Bush is far more than a simple impersonation. It’s a profound study of the man, a giddy revelation of the thought processes behind the grammar.
Between jokes, though, Carvey is just a nice, bland, friendly guy; he’s the soul of mildness. This is no coincidence. Great impressionists are almost always limited as comic actors. The skills that make one a crack personality parodist — a sensitive ear, minute observational powers — are based on being other-directed, on taking your cues from whoever’s in front of you. These guys have trouble holding the movie screen because, when they’re only themselves, a part of them isn’t quite there.
In Opportunity Knocks, which is a blatant rip-off of the Michael J. Fox hit The Secret of My Success, Carvey plays a two-bit con artist who stumbles onto a big score. Pretending to be a rising young tycoon, he worms his way into the lives of a back-slapping executive (Robert Loggia) and his beautiful physician daughter (Julia Campbell). Suddenly, there are financial opportunities galore — that is, as long as our hero can keep faking his entrepreneurial expertise.
It’s a good premise, but this time the jokes aren’t there — and Carvey is no Michael J. Fox. His presence is droopy, recessive; in most scenes, he just hangs back, delivers a line, and then stares at whoever’s speaking at him. He’s almost painful to watch, partly because anyone who has enjoyed him on ”Saturday Night Live” is sure to bring a lot of goodwill to the picture. It’s like watching a friend bomb onstage.
The low point — I suspect Carvey will be razzed about this scene in the SNL corridors for years — comes when he goes onstage pretending to be someone known as ”Wild Man” and performs a ”wild” rendition of ”Born To Be Wild,” complete with embarrassingly outdated ’70s-rock-star poses. Who convinced Carvey to do this movie, anyway? Was it his agent, or could it have been, oh, I don’t know, Satan? F