Review of Mystery Men

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In order to generate more endorsement revenue, Champion City's resident superhero Captain Amazing arranges for the release of supervillian Casanova Frankenstein, only to be captured by him. The city's fate rests in the hands of seven loser superhero wannabes: the fork-flinging Blue Rajah, the shovel-wielding Shoveler, the posessed bowling ball-hurling Bowler, the flatulent Spleen, the only-when-nobody's-looking Invisible Boy, the mysterious Sphinx, and the perpetually-angry Mr. Furious. Starring Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, William H. Macy, Greg Kinnear, Janeane Garofalo and Geoffrey Rush.
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Movie Review: "Mystery Men"

-- Rating: PG-13 (crude humor, comic action violence)
Length: 121 minutes
Release Date: August 6, 1999
Directed by: Kinka Usher
Genre: Action/Comedy/Fantasy

It is not often that a movie comes out that not only mocks an entire genre, but pays homage to it at the same time. "Mystery Men" is one of those rare films. It not only sends up superhero movies and all their clichés, but it also shows an unabashed love for the tropes that it is trouncing by becoming an action film with all those same clichés built in.

The action takes place in the fictional Champion City, where Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear) is the superhero who all little kids dream of one day becoming. He is very effective at his job, essentially ridding the city of crime, especially once he manages to get his greatest nemesis, Cassanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush), behind bars. Then a funny thing happens-the Captain gets bored with the newfound peace and crimeless streets of Champion City. His big-money sponsors are also upset that he hasn't done too many rescues lately, which limits the exposure of their logos on his uniform. With his arch enemy behind bars and sponsors threatening to bolt, what is a superhero supposed to do?

He and his devious publicist hatch a plot to get Cassanova paroled, which they think will keep the Captain busy with rescues and quell the sponsors. What he doesn't realize is just how busy he will be. Cassanova has been plotting his revenge since he was put in jail, and upon his release hatches a crime spree that the Captain just can't handle on his own. He soon disappears, having been kidnapped by the new crime syndicate. The city needs saving, so a ragtag group comes together consisting of Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), who has a terrible temper; Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), a British man who can throw forks like knives; and Shoveler (William H. Macy), who uses his shovel as a weapon. None of these talents could remotely be considered superpowers in comic book lore, but that is part of what makes the group so funny.

The three try to rescue Captain Amazing, nearly dying in the process. They decide to recruit more "superheroes" like them to help out. Enter the Bowler (Janeane Garafolo), a woman who can throw a bowling ball like a weapon; Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell), who is apparently only able to disappear when nobody is watching; the Sphinx (Wes Studi), who tries to be a sage but ends up sounding silly; and the Spleen (Paul Reubens), who has some serious gastrointestinal issues that he uses to his advantage. Again, not exactly superpowers, but when thrown together, these powers may just be able to overcome the bad guys and save Captain Amazing and the entire city.

The characters are based on a series released by Dark Horse Comics that was meant as both a spoof and a love letter to superheroes. The film succeeds wildly at keeping the true spirit of the comic book series and uses spot-on casting to get the characters just right. Garafolo might be the only female in the group, but she nearly steals the show with her costume, makeup, and droll line delivery. When you add that to the prop bowling ball with her father's skull in it, she is exactly the type of character one would picture coming out of "Flaming Carrot Comics," the series upon which the film is based.

There are other small details that make a big difference with the characters. Captain Amazing has one eyebrow that is slightly raised, making him look like he is in a constant state of deduction. Several of his funniest lines wouldn't work without the raised eyebrow adding some comic effect. The Spleen has plenty of flatulent sound effects, but these would have worn thin if it wasn't for Reubens' facial expressions and genuine glee about his gas. The Blue Raja wouldn't work if it wasn't for Azaria completely selling the notion that a man could really work for years to hone a skill like fork tossing. In fact, everyone is so perfectly cast that one can't just credit the talent of the stars. Casting director Mindy Marin might just be the real star of the production.

There are plenty of belly laughs, and one doesn't even have to be a fan of superhero movies in order to find the gags funny. That is a testament to the whip-smart script by Neil Cuthbert and great direction by Kinka Usher, who both clearly love superheroes as much as they love mocking them.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars