This high camp, low brow spoof of comic book super heroes is
ultimately something of a disappointment. Based on the Dark Horse
comic, Mystery Men affectionately sends up the conventions of more
familiar super heroes, but it also taps the genre for some rich
satire. The film follows the misadventures of a group of amateur
super heroes who finally get their chance to prove themselves.
Despite a stellar cast, high production values and some nifty one
liners, Mystery Men sadly fails to reach any great heights.
The fictitious Champion City has always been protected by its
resident super hero Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear, from As Good As It
Gets, etc). But he has done such a good job of putting away super
villains that he is doing himself out of a job and losing lucrative
sponsorship deals as well. Captain Amazing hatches a plot whereby he
arranges for his arch nemesis Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) to
be released on parole, in order to maintain his status. But
Frankenstein has diabolical plans of his own. He quickly turns the
tables on the super hero, taking him prisoner and setting up his
scheme to dominate Champion City.
The only ones capable of thwarting Frankenstein's evil scheme
are a tragic group of wannabe super heroes with dubious special
powers. Blue collar workers disillusioned with their dead end day
jobs and lack of respect from their peers and family, the three men
prowl the city at night trying to fight crime. These aspiring super
heroes are the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), an effete master of cutlery
who hurls forks - never knives - at the villains; Mr Furious (Ben
Stiller) who works himself into a terrifying rage; and the Shoveler
(William H Macy) who wields garden implements with dexterity and
skill. But their incompetence and lack of ability sees them regarded
as little more than a joke by both the police and the supercilious
The hapless heroes are no match for Frankenstein's army, and
reluctantly realise that they need to recruit some more super heroes.
A hasty search turns up the Spleen (Paul Reubens, aka Pee Wee Herman),
whose explosive farts can vanquish villains from ten paces; the
Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell, from Good Burger, etc), whose ability to
turn invisible works best when no-one is watching; and the Bowler
(Janeane Garofalo), who carries her murdered father's skull around in
a glass bowling ball.
The task of whipping this motley crew into shape falls to the
legendary super hero the Sphinx (Wes Studi, from Geronimo, etc).
However, his habit of uttering clichéd aphorisms like "If you doubt
your powers then you give power to your doubts" both confuse and
frustrate our heroes. Armed with some high tech non-lethal weaponry
provided by an eccentric armourer (Tom Waits), these amateur super
heroes are ready to take the fight to Frankenstein, for one final
From its distinctive visual style it's obvious that first time
director Kinka Usher hails from a background in commercials. The
gothic production design and the striking look is reminiscent of the
gloomy look and dark tone that Tim Burton gave to his version of
Batman. But ultimately the film is all style, with very little
Usher may be good with visuals and the overall look of the
film, but he's less assured with handling actors. Most of the
performances here lack subtlety. However, the always reliable Macy
gives his character a touch of vulnerability and grounds him in a
reality that is sadly missing from the rest of the characters.
Garofalo is at her tart and acerbic best, while Rush's camp and over
the top villain perfectly captures the comic sensibility of the film.
There are some great moments in this film, but there are also a number
of moments that fall horribly flat.
Despite some well meaning ideas about the nature of friendship
and the inevitability of good triumphing over evil, Mystery Men is a
bit of a mixed bag that may struggle to please audiences. The biggest
mystery of all is how a film with so much potential fell so horribly
short of the mark.
Copyright © 2000 Greg King