Mystery Men Movie Review

If nothing else, "Mystery Men," a chaff on the "Batman"-style event movie, has impeccable timing. The unbridled superhero genre has never been more ripe for spoofing, and this picture has an superior satirical pedigree, what with its cast that includes those hippest heir apparents of comedy royalty, Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo.

Adapted from the Dark Horse comic book of the same name, the movie's protagonists are a sad sack band of part-time, wannabes heroes with monikers like The Shoveler (mild-mannered William H. Macy, donning a golden spade); the silverware-wielding Blue Raja (Hank Azaria, in a bad fortune-teller get-up); the Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell), whose powers only work when no one is looking; The Spleen (Paul Rubens of "Pee-Wee" fame), who boasts near-lethal flatulence; The Bowler (Garofalo), whose translucent, supernatural ball contains her dead daddy's skull; and Mr. Furious (Stiller), whose alleged power is his violent and very short temper.

These not-so-super friends are called into action when Champion City's real savior -- a corporate sellout called Captain Amazing (a superbly conceited Greg Kinnear), whose rubbery costume is plastered with more ads than NASCAR jumpsuit -- is captured by the wildly nefarious, feral-eyed and disco-lovin' baddie Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush, on an all-you-can-eat scenery diet).

But even with a capriciously cornball story and such a delightfully demented cast, "Mystery Men" manages to miss its mark. After a solid hour of double-over laughs, first-time director Kinka Usher (the man behind the Taco Bell Chihuahua spots) drops the ball, allowing his riff on the Hollywood's most shameless commodity to become precisely what it set out to ridicule.

The last half of "Mystery Men" is conspicuously short on laughs (save an arsenal of Garofalo zingers), abandoning its sense of humor for an unnecessarily complicated, catch-phrase-crazy, guns-and-stunts-driven last act. After an over-long training sequence under the tutelage of an elder masked mentor called The Sphinx (Wes Studi), and a few arbitrary internal conflicts, these pawn shop heroes make an assault on Casanova's castle, trying their mettle and the audience's patience.

Its sad to see the way the picture unravels in the last hour after such a promising start. With so much talent on the screen, so many good, hard laughs (Captain Amazing has a publicist!) and such ironically handsome production design (Champion City is a slick, faux-futuristic mastermix of "Batman's" Gotham and "Blade Runner's" L.A.), I tried to find every way I could to like it.

But director Usher lost his way, gradually turning "Mystery Men's" mockery into unfortunate imitation.


Mystery Men Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG-13, Opened: Friday, August 6, 1999


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