Mystery Men
Rating -

Action/Satire (US); 1999; Rated PG-13; 121 Minutes

Hank Azaria: Blue Raja/Jeffrey
Janeane Garofalo: The Bowler/Caroline
William H. Macy: The Shoveler/Eddie
Kel Mitchell: Invisible Boy
Paul Reubens: The Spleen
Ben Stiller: Mr. Furious/Roy
Wes Studi: The Sphinx
Greg Kinnear: Captain Amazing/Lance Hutton

Produced by Robert Engelman, Steven Gilder, Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin and Mike Richardson; Directed by Kinka Usher; Screenwritten by Neil Cuthbert; based on the comic book by Bob Burden

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Written by DAVID KEYES

Here it is, at last, something sharp and imaginative to save us from all those predictable summer blockbusters. Let's be honest with ourselves: this is, without second thought, a season crammed with frequent retreads of first offerings; in other words, a period in which a movie's budget is more important than any type of well-crafted script, and ideas are borrowed from other big hits in hopes of squeezing some new life into them. It is with great surprise that this, a movie of combined genres and fresh (often funny) perspective, is able to maneuver all of those box office rip-offs, and find release in theaters at the vertex of the season's derangement. The film is a dazzling, charming, witty, well-accepted and original experience. And because it opens in August, instead of September and October like other super hero films, that makes it all the more well-accepted and original. Here, we are not watching a habitual, tiresome summer flick in which teens have sex, terrorists live next door, or boys can see ghosts all around him. We are watching idiots parade around in ugly costumes, calling themselves 'crime fighters.' What more could one ask for at a time when movie-goers are being showered with expensive and pointless blockbusters?

Greg Kinnear stars as Captain Amazing, an equivalent to Superman of sorts, whose tremendous popularity in the lush environment of Champion City is waning. Why? Because all the crime is gone. He has conquered every baddie that has ever laid their feet in the city. In order to prevent his image from fading in the minds of countless followers, the Captain decides his best way to redeem attention is by cooking up a plot with his arch-nemesis, the diabolical Casanova Frankenstein, played by Geoffrey Rush. One problem: the nemesis is a little too smart for Captain Amazing. Once he is set free, the super hero turns up missing.

Now about those self-proclaimed 'Mystery Men.' Picture several wanna-be crime fighters, on determination to save Captain Amazing, who know just as much of the subject as they do rocket science. This, interestingly, is because they're only super heroes in training, not quite aware of how to approach a bombarding crime-spree. No plan of theirs is well-thought, partly because the job is not that well-suited to them, but also because their own talents are so far-fetched that no one could perceive them as tools in crime-fighting. Their special powers would make Austin Powers' look generic.

And just as their talents are peculiar for challenging evildoers, so are their own personalities. Here are some fascinating triumphs in the world of comic-book-style crime fighters; their individualism strays from normality and bounces off into a realm of insanity. The ensemble cast, brought together with witty and often flabbergasted precision, is filled with amazing individuals, among them William H. Macy as the Shoveler (a man whose spade is his only friend), Kel Mitchell as the Invisible Boy (who is only invisible when no one is looking), Janeane Garofalo as The Bowler (whose personal weapon acts like a boomerang of sorts), and Ben Stiller as Mr. Furious (whose powers are more like temper tantrums thrown by pony-hungry 16-year-old girls). The best, however, is The Spleen, for reasons that I find difficult to describe here. If we as moviegoers are unfair to actors who have made mistakes in the past and have returned triumphant, then Paul Reubens' performance is one to take notice. He's simple yet funny, dumb yet interesting, nasty but observant. In this kind of world, he deserves a movie all by himself.

"Mystery Men" isn't rehashed material, either. Oh, the idea of super heroes is hardly anything new, but because this one combines those standard plot devices with satirical force and invigorating new characters, the story is more fresh than, say, "Blade" or "Batman" (which may be hard to imagine, since the film is adapted from a comic book as well). The movie succeeds in almost every detail, because it satirizes the super hero genre rather than trying to Xerox it.

These characters are funny, unique, and (here's the trump card) their special skills are not out of this world. Rather, they involve objects and things that we can recognize at first glance (but usually ones that we cannot see as those used in crime fighting). This gives them an advantage over typical heroes like the Caped Crusader. There is a moment, for example, when the three original Mystery Men are recruiting new members to save Captain Amazing, and they come across one who calls herself the PMS Avenger. "I can only work two or three days a month," she says. "I hope that isn't a problem."

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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