Mystery Men

"We're not your classic heros. We're the other guys." - The Shoveller

Director: Kinka Usher

Writer: Bob Burden, Neil Cuthbert

Principal cast members:

Not Quite Super

The entire superhero genre has undergone some rather amazing evolution since the golden age of comic books. Dark Horse Comics in particular has made some rather radical departures from traditional form and Bob Burden of Dark Horse is the mind behind this rather unusual assortment of super-powered crime fighters.

In the futuristic world of Champion City in which superheroes, both professional and amateur, strive for publicity and success, the king of the profession is Captain Amazing. But Amazing's ratings have been slipping and his publicist is scrambling to get him some press. Fortunately, a fine opportunity presents itself when master super-villain, Casanova Frankenstein, is released on parole, largely due to a strong recommendation from the psychologist who has fallen in love with him and from billionaire philanthropist, Lance Hunt, who happens to be Amazing's secret identity. Once Frankenstein is released, he begins hatching yet another evil plot. Captain Amazing immediately heads to Frankenstein's super fortress to confront him but is captured in a diabolical trap. Despite his considerable product endorsements, Captain Amazing is in dire straits.

Fortunately he's not the only hero on the streets. Soon, a trio of struggling amateurs is on the case seeking to rescue the big man. They are led by Mr. Furious, a troubled young man whose only real power is a temper that seems to produce no discernible benefits. Assisting him is the Blue Raja, a turban-wearing English-accented flinger of silverware, and the Shoveller, a city construction worker whose name tells you about all you need to know. Describing his special powers, he says, "I shovel well. I shovel very well."

Their initial confrontations with Frankenstein's troops - the dreaded Disco Boys - prove totally unsuccessful so the three heroes seek out further assistance. They hold auditions and find themselves confronting some truly awful attempts at super heroism. They reject one guy whose powers consist of a waffle iron and a bottle of syrup. They also reject PMS Girl out of abject fear. One applicant proves promising, however, and that is a young woman named The Bowler who is armed with a mysterious ball containing the skeletal head of her father, one of The Disco Boys' earlier victims. Reluctantly, they add two additional cohorts - The Spleen who has the ability to produce gaseous emissions so noxious they can disable humans, and Invisible Boy who can allegedly make himself invisible provided no one is watching.

This band of heroes also gets help from two other sources. The first is a slightly deranged scientist named Dr. A. Heller who provides them with special weapons uniquely designed to disable without actually injuring anyone. The second is a mysterious hero named The Sphinx who proves to be a tremendous source of wisdom and begins training the Mystery Men in his own mysterious way, despite the fact that Roy (aka Mr. Furious) isn't all that fond of him.

Eventually, they group pulls together and attacks Casanova Frankenstein's fortress and manages to defeat him before he hatches a nefarious world-domination plot. As to the rescue of Captain Amazing, probably better not to go into that in detail.

This film benefits from some clever writing and engaging comic acting from a very talented cast, but it suffers as bit from a plot that is weak at best. There is a coherent story behind all this, but it is really rather predictable and not that spectacularly executed. The best features of the screenplay really unfold in a few individual scenes that play more like sketch comedy than a feature film. The clever wordplay of Wes Studi's Sphinx is fun for awhile. Aphorisms like, "He who questions training only trains himself at asking questions," start out as clever fun but become monotonous enough that we find ourselves agreeing with Mr. Furious when he beings mocking the 'terribly mysterious' mentor.

Greg Kinnear's Captain Amazing is well-done. He's a big shot celebrity with an ego to match and Kinnear is convincing in the role. We're never really sure what makes him amazing, but we know he's got the corporate sponsorships to prove it. His nemesis, Casanova Frankenstein, is brought to life in a truly awe-inspiring display of scenery chewing by Geoffrey Rush. If you thought his Captain Barbossa in Pirates was over the top, you haven't seen him in Mystery Men!

Stiller is typically amusing as Roy, the very angry hero. Mr. Furious is not exactly overpowering. He's more like a Bruce Banner who, instead of transforming into the Hulk, transforms into a really angry Bruce Banner. Hank Azaria's Blue Raja is somewhat more entertaining. While his fork-flinging skills offer potential, his aim is a bit questionable and when he fires off the occasional spoon, his effectiveness really suffers. Bill Macy, an actor of amazing talent and ability, initially seems wasted here in the role of the Shoveller. He is really played so low-key that he is almost more invisible than the Invisible Boy. But as the team comes together, The Shoveller starts to emerge from the background inspire his team to egg-salad metaphor-induced greatness.

The second set of heroes adds a little to the mix. Garafalo is fine here providing her usually acerbic dialogue and a little more pathos in the backstory involving her father, Carmine the Bowler. Paul Reubens as The Spleen presents one of the most unappealing and un-charismatic super heroes ever to grace the screen. Wes Studi does an admirable job as The Sphinx providing some of the more entertaining scenes of the group in training while Claire Forlani is almost unnoticeable as Stiller's love interest in a somewhat under-utilized subplot.

The climactic battle is certainly a bit more fun to watch than the ponderous, bumbling build-up. Once the group crashes through the walls of Frankenstein's fortress, they suddenly seem to be more competent. There is a confidence never seen before and also abilities to go with it. The Blue Raja fires forks with uncanny power and accuracy. The Shoveller actually does some useful things with his shovel and The Bowler strikes terror into the hearts (and heads) of the Disco Boys. Even Invisible Boy comes through in the clutch and before the night is over, Mr. Furious actually seems to find a use for his fury.

But, in the end, the movie really doesn't quite reach its potential destinations. As an action flick, the pacing is halting and slow to build. As an actual story of human emotion, we are just way too detached from most of the main characters. As a comedy, which is probably the best way to view it, it is just inconsistent and too lukewarm. We want 90 minutes of excitement or emotion or hilarity. What we get is 90 minutes of mild amusement. Not terrible; just not that impressive either.

Coolness factor: 7

Writing: 5

Acting: 6

Overall entertainment: 6