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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 Walter Frith
2 stars out of 4

'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 me."

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

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