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.
Directed by: Kinka Usher
. Starring: Hank Azaria
, Janeane Garofalo
, William H. Macy
, Kel Mitchell
, Paul Reubens
, Ben Stiller
, Wes Studi
, Greg Kinnear
, Geoffrey Rush
, Lena Olin
, Eddie Izzard
, Artie Lange
, Pras Michel
. Music by: Stephen Warbeck
When "Mystery Men" was announced for production last year, my heart went sailing into the stars. It's a wonderful thing when Janeane Garofalo and Ben Stiller decide to collaborate, it's even better when they can find a solid cast to back them up. After detailed reports from the set, two lackluster trailers, and the hideous one-sheet, "Mystery Men" finally slumps into theaters. Universal decided to hose down my fanaticism with the worst ad campaign of the year. It's rare to come across a 70 million dollar film that the studio doesn't have a clue how to market. This is the first of many problems with "Mystery Men".
On to the production...
The cast list is impressive: Hank Azaria (one of "The Simpsons" brilliant voices), former Pee-Wee Paul Reubens, William H. Macy, Geoffrey Rush, Stiller and Garofalo, Wes Studi ("Last Of The Mohicans"), Kel Mitchell (Nickelodeon's "Kenan And Kel"), and personal faves Eddie Izzard ("Velvet Goldmine") and Lena Olin ("Romeo Is Bleeding"). Not much can go wrong with this kind of talent. I guess you can never underestimate the power of the first-time director. Kinka Usher come to us from the world of commercials and music videos, doesn't that make you shudder? Has anybody of worth come out of that background? Maybe David Fincher, but Mr. Usher only knows two things in "Mystery Men": low angels and the overuse of a fish-eye lens. Almost every shot in the film alternates between the two choices. While "Mystery" has all the trappings of a rich comic book inspired hit, Usher buries the fun under two layers of clamor and indulgence. While they do have experience and a certain visual gumption, video helmers are slowly and effectively killing modern cinema.
Ben Stiller stars as Mr. Furious, or Roy to his friends. He leads a ragtag group of low-rent superheros with powers not many would consider super. The Blue Raja (Azaria, in one of the film's inspired comic performances) hurls forks and spoons with a English accent. The Shoveler (Macy) quickly dispatches his enemies with the blunt end of a digging tool. The Spleen (Reubens, in the other great acting job) uses his flatulence to bring down evil. It's The Bowler (Garofalo) who provides the best weapon, the skull of her deceased father encased in a golden bowling ball. The group is called into action when resident "Superman" style hero Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear, not as funny as he should be) comes under the evil clutches of supervillain Cassanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush). His intent? To take over Champion City with the help of Mini-Me and Austin's mojo... Oh, wait. I'm getting my parodies mixed up. He's up to something, maybe you can figure it out better than I could.
All knocks aside, "Mystery Men" has it's moments. When the team is finally realized and sets out to fight evil, the film becomes this kinetic ride with lots of laughs and a great sense of parody. Like I said, I'm a sucker for the genius of Stiller and Garofalo. Kinka Usher ends these moments too quickly with endless scenes of preparation and little scenes developing the Cassanova character. I liked Rush quite a bit, anything but to see him in tights and spouting Elizabethan dialog, but cohort in crime Olin barely has any dialog, a crying shame. Usher can't seem to marry the story to the fun. "Mystery" is one of those films that's too interested in it's presentation to care much about story or keeping the silly level up. Every penny is up on-screen (especially in shots when cars drive through the same set about 3 times), but the computer effects look community-college level. Shocking in this day and age when anything is possible.
The climax of the film is another disappointment. Director Usher loses control of the film and it hurdles into an orgy of noise and effects. With a nearly 120 minute running time, "Men" beats you senseless in it's final 25 minutes. The narrative breaks down and you find yourself covering your ears and praying the action will take a break. Save for one hilarious "Six Million Dollar Man" gag, the entire climax is a waste of time and money. Keeping the budget lower might have forced Usher to use his brains to end the film. Instead we get his short-attention span.
I came out sorta liking "Mystery Men", but I'm having trouble remembering the good parts. They had a solid in-jokey script to work with, an amazing cast that will not come around again (unless this does well), and a multi-million dollar palette from which to create a new comic book environment. I can't entirely recommend "Mystery Men", but I can say that the potential is there.
Review by Brian Orndorf from the Internet Movie Database.