Well, we have always been each other's nemesises... nemesi...
Once in a while, an absolutely absurd movie will come along, mercilessly lampooning the conventions of a well-tread genre that have become all-too-familiar in the popular consciousness. "The Three Amigos" did it for Westerns back in 1986, "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" did it for spy movies in 1997, and now "Mystery Men" does it for comic book superheroes in 1999. And though "Mystery Men" suffers from a sagging mid-section, a few comic misfires, and trying to cram too much into its two-hour running time, it still manages to come off as a mischievously witty (not to mention frequently funny) look at the workaday lives of your average blue-collar loserheroes.
The central conceit of "Mystery Men" is that not only are superheroes real, but that they also occupy the various strata of society. In Champion City, a dingy metropolis that combines the visions of "Blade Runner" and "Batman", the top of the food chain belongs to Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear of "As Good As It Gets"), a billionaire turned superhero. In addition to fighting crime, Captain Amazing is showered with corporate sponsorships (such as Reebok) and has a publicist choreograph his public appearances. At the other end of the corporate ladder are a rag-tag group of superhero-wannabes who have dubious special powers, hold regular jobs, are belittled by the local law enforcement, and mostly get their butts kicked. The turbaned Blue Raja (Hank Azaria of "Godzilla") is a 'master of silverware', capable of flinging forks and other eating utensils at his enemies. The Shoveler (William H. Macy of "Pleasantville") fights crime with his trusty digging implement, and takes it very, very seriously. Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller of "There's Something About Mary") has a very short temper, which is supposed to translate to superhuman strength, but doesn't.
The story starts off with Captain Amazing in danger of losing his corporate sponsors due to a lack of super-villains to fight-- evidently, the ostentatious one has done such a good job fighting crime that there is nothing left to do. He comes up with a scheme to have his arch-enemy, Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush of "Shakespeare in Love"), paroled such that the ensuing good-versus-evil battles will maintain his place in the limelight. Unfortunately, Casanova Frankenstein outsmarts Champion City's crusader, and Captain Amazing becomes a prisoner in Cassanova's stronghold. With the city's superhero in peril, Mr. Furious, The Shoveler, and The Blue Raja take it upon themselves to mount a rescue mission. Unfortunately, Casanova's minions, such as the feared Disco Boys, put up a fierce resistance to the wannabe rescuers, forcing a hasty retreat.
We got to find ourselves a lot of superheroes real fast.
Sensing the need for greater numbers, the threesome begin auditioning for extra help. They eventually settle on some less than spectacular crime-fighters. Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell) supposedly turns invisible when no one is looking. The Spleen (Paul Reubens) has a 'silent but deadly' scatological attack. The Bowler (Janeane Garafolo of "The Truth About Cats and Dogs") flings a bowling ball that seems to have a mind of its own. Finally, The Sphinx (Wes Studi of "Deep Rising") is a mysterious figure who spouts enigmatic but ultimately meaningless maxims. However, as this ragtag team of working-class avengers prepare for the greatest test of their abilities, Casanova Frankenstein prepares to unleash a deadly weapon of mass destruction on the unsuspecting citizens of Champion City...
PMS Avenger... I only work four days a month. Is there a problem?
Based on the comic book by Bob Burden, Neil Cuthbert's witty script takes all the conventions of superhero comics and ruthlessly butchers them to great effect. The use of awe-inspiring superpowers, the melodramatic posturing that comes with any confrontation between good and evil, the obligatory one-liners, and the twisted logic that often keep these types of stories afloat-- no stone is left unturned. There are a number of memorable moments scattered throughout "Mystery Men", including the interviews of new candidates for the team, The Shoveler and Mr. Furious arguing over Captain Amazing's true identity, the team's rescue attempt of Captain Amazing, and the final showdown in Casanova's hideout.
God gave me a gift. I shovel well... I shovel very well.
Another interesting aspect of the script the approach that in the universe of "Mystery Men", superheroes have gone mainstream and have taken their place in the public spotlight next to movie stars and star athletes. At the upper end of the scale, top-drawer superheroes like Captain Amazing are showered with corporate sponsorships, armed with publicists and lawyers, and chauffeured to 'work' in limos. At the other end of the scale, numerous wannabe superheroes toil away in menial joe-jobs, drop their kids off at soccer practice, and take the bus to crime scenes. Half of the fun is the absurd situations that arise out of such a situation, such as The Shoveler trying to justify to his wife why he goes out at night to fight crime.
I'm invisible! Can you see me?!
Maybe you should put some shorts on if you want to continue fighting evil today!
In addition to the satirical script, "Mystery Men" is populated with a terrific cast that does an impressive job. To the audience, the travails of the Mystery Men may seem silly, but to the characters, fighting crime is a very serious business, and the performances convey this staid work ethic. Stiller displays some splendid physical acting whenever Mr. Furious throws a tantrum, Macy plays straight man to great effect, Garafolo continues to show the comedic charms from her days at "The Gary Shandling Show", Rush is over-the-top as a disco-dancing villain, and finally, Kinnear is perfect in conveying Captain Amazing's empty-headed charm.
Unfortunately, there are a number of areas where "Mystery Men" falters. Like "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me", there are a number of gags that suffer from poor comic timing, going on longer than they should, and fizzling as a result. Another problem is that the latter-half of the film focused more on the special effects and pyrotechnics than the characters, resulting in a number of character threads getting the short shrift, such as the relationship between Mr. Furious and a diner waitress (Claire Forlani of "Meet Joe Black"). Had director Kinka Usher tightened the reins on the action sequences and focused more on the characters, where the film has its strength, "Mystery Men" truly would have been superb.
Despite a few flaws and the occasional dull moment, "Mystery Men" is a fun and irreverent romp that effectively lampoons the world of superheroes. Genuinely funny, while being clever at the same time, "Mystery Men" dazzles with its colorful characters and the witty banter between them.... a perfect getaway for a hot summer night.