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Mystery Men

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Mystery Men

Starring: Greg Kinnear, Ben Stiller
Director: Kinka Usher
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 122 Minutes
Release Date: August 1999
Genres: Comedy, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: William H. Macy, Paul Reubens, Hank Azaria, Janeane Garofalo, Kel Mitchell, Wes Studi, Tom Waits, Geoffrey Rush

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Do you know or did you ever like comic books? That's like saying did you ever like bubble gum, lollipops or cotton candy. Of course we all did, so the theory that your affinity for a movie like "Mystery Men" depends on your attitude toward the comics is irrelevant. Unless you read The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal at the age of eight, you doubtless encountered Dick Tracy and, going back far enough, The Captain and the Kids. When I was a little one back in the Jurassic Age, the comics of choice were Superman, Superboy, Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Plastic Man and Mad. More recently the likes of X- Men appeal to the hip kids in high school. Now that we grant the universal appeal of the genre, we can imagine that Kinka Usher, who directed "Mystery Men" and Neil Cuthbert who wrote the script (based on the Dark Horse Comic Book Series of Bob Burden) are aficionados of these picture magazines. "Mystery Men" is both a parody and a veneration of these little novels. Unlike some of the humorless books themselves, this house of Usher is loaded with some witty lines, puns and visual gags, and since the violence is of the Daffy-Duck cartoonish kinds, parents should not fear to take their little ones to the PG-13 show.

Despite the presence of strong actors known to just about every moviegoer, the picture is way overlong for what is essentially a one-joke property. The story is of the typical hero-villain sort with mostly inept champions chasing after a particularly professional and off-the-wall criminal who seeks to destroy the city he lives in for the pure fun of doing so.

As Captain Amazing, Greg Kinnear plays a dashing Rudy Giuliani type who has rid his town, Champion City, of crime, a man who in his daily life is a bespectacled multimillionaire named Lance (after Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne). Sickened after losing the sponsorship of Pepsi Cola (he wears a uniform filled with buttons of various products whose corporate officers pay him), he is determined to allow at least one bad guy to terrorize the metropolis once again. After all, where would the police--or superheroes--be if they wiped out crime and thereby put themselves out of jobs? He makes sure that his old nemesis, Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) is paroled knowing that the madman will assemble a gang of terrorists and create havoc anew, thereby giving himself and a few wannabees something to do.

The alleged fun comes from the second-tier superheroes, all good people but each almost thoroughly inept. They include the effete Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), who lives with his mother and is expert at flinging forks and spoons at the sources of evil; Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller, who depends on his perpetual rage to drum up the strength to fight); The Shoveler (William H. Macy, who looks like a coal miner and wears his shovel proudly across his back as an icon of weaponry); The Spleen (Paul Reubens, who depends on his lactose intolerance to knock out his opponents); and The Bowler (Janeane Garofalo--whose weapon is a bowling with the skull of her father inside, giving the sphere a life of its own).

Despite the attendance of sharp lines like The Bowler's "I would like to dedicate my victory to supporters of local music and those who seek out independent films," the movie--which goes on endlessly reinventing the wheel in a progression of silly, unfunny episodes of gauche good guys battling a menacing mental case--is an unholy muddle of the usual special effects. These performers have been seen in far better roles. Bill Macy was superb on stage in "Oleanna," Ben Stiller was super in indies like "Reality Bites," and Geoffrey Rush totally outta sight as a genuinely villainous conspirator in his "Elizabeth" role and a genuinely insane pianist in "Shine." One can hope only that the young people in the audience will become involved in the work of these sharp performers and take in some of the real pictures for which they will inevitably be called upon.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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