'Mystery Men' has all of the ingredients of a typical 1990's film that looks
like an adult comic book layered with special effects. Naturally it's all
computerized and has paid advertising seen throughout the film by the
corporate states of America. The hero, Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear) wears
his outfit plastered with ads from sponsors and the film's bizarre visuals
look in many cases like 'Batman' and 'Blade Runner' on LSD.
Now that you have an idea of how it looks, it's important to tell you how it
feels. There are moments of sporadic laughter but the film has clumsy
execution and an even clumsier tone. The way the heroes carry out their
mission is unconvincing in the face of unspeakable evil and no one would
believe for a second that they could overcome their adversaries and save the
day for the forces of good.
Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), the Bowler (Janeane
Garofalo), the Shoveler (William H. Macy), Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell), the
Spleen (Paul Reubens) are a team of wannabe heroes. Some of them have fake
accents, some use the tools of mere mortals and in general look like a gang
of club members who got together in one afternoon and decided to be crime
fighters and went to the nearest garage sale to get their arsenal of
weapons. Forks, shovels and other oddities are used and in the opening
scene we find they need a lot of work when they try and save a seniors home
from a group of invading meanies. The original members of the group are Mr
Furious, the Blue Raja and the Shoveler. They are joined later by the
Bowler, Invisible Boy and the Spleen. The most intriguing member of the
group is the Bowler (Garofolo) who has the skull of her dead father inside
her ball and brags effortlessly that "The guy at the pro shop did it for
When Captain Amazing is held captive in the evil clutches of Casanova
Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush), the heroes try and save him but have to deal
with the goons aiding the chief bad guy. Casanova Frankenstein's plot is to
destroy the city that kept him in an insane asylum for many torturous years.
With his ego the size a dozen pro athletes, some would argue that Captain
Amazing's eventual fate is justice in the making while the amateurs get all
the deserving glory.
Director Kinka Usher catapults the film like a guided missile gone awry. I
enjoyed some of the antics and the way it made me laugh from time to time
but overall I just couldn't find enough to sustain a film with a running
length of 121 minutes. Neil Cuthbert is the author of the film's screenplay
based on the comic book series Dark Horse created by Bob Burden.
In my review of 1998's 'There's Something About Mary', I criticized the film
for going too far in its display of overly crude material and I said that
Ben Stiller was rather flat and unfunny. In 'Mystery Men' I found that his
performance as the most screwed up hero probably looked good on paper but
his execution of it is comparable to the least funny member of the original
Three Stooges. The rest of the cast members are very flat and the fact that
there are definitely too many of them makes it hard to root for any single
one of them.
Throughout the history of film, many have argued that some material just
isn't capable of being filmed. Some literature worked better in plain text
on paper. Some of it looks better as images in squares known as comic books
and while special effects have worked marvelously for many films in the
nineties, just as many of them have suffered from overkill and have passed
themselves off as flash over substance. 'Mystery Men' may be 1999's
ultimate definition of that.
Copyright © 2000 Walter Frith