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by Tony Lee editor of
Director: Kinka Usher
116 minutes (PG) widescreen 1.85:1 Universal/Columbia Tristar
review by Tony Lee
"We're not your classic superheroes, we're not the favourites. We're the other
guys." The boorish Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear) is the only effective hero in
town, but his publicity seeking professionalism has put criminals out of business, and
behind bars in the lunatic asylum, so there's no further need of his brand-name bravery
or media product placement services. Unless...
The main characters start out as a bunch of losers: The Shoveler (William
H. Macy), The Blue Raja (a turbaned Brit who throws forks), and biker Mr Furious (Ben
Stiller). Together, they can't prevent the opening's raid on an old people's home but,
with help from The Spleen (Paul Reubens, whose fart-jokes are at least non-lethal), and
Janeane Garofalo as the vengeful daughter of murdered hero, The Bowler (guess what's
inside her bowling ball!), the working class super-team do manage to vandalise the
arch-villain's limo, much to the displeasure of wicked Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey
Rush), and his campy disco-club thugs, led by Eddie Izzard, who are plotting the
destruction of Champion City. The 'Mystery Men' need guidance if their plan to rescue the
captured Captain Amazing, and save the city, is to succeed. Wes Studi turns up just in
time as the enigmatic Sphinx. New costumes, some attitude adjustment, and teamwork are
what he suggests.
Should Macy's Shoveler abandon his crime-fighting ambitions and stay at
home with his wife and family? Can Mr Furious overcome the twin frustrations of
obscurity and failure? Is there really a place in the superhero pantheon for the
flatulent Spleen? Will the clumsy Blue Raja ever use a knife?
This is a curiosity: a comedy fantasy adventure, based on a comic book with
a distinctly satirical slant and plenty of humour, in both simple and sophisticated
modes. Simple? The bad guy's henchmen carry big guns, while their opponents remain
unarmed. Sophisticated? In a twisted evocation of quantum theory's observer-influenced
reality, Invisible Boy can only use his power when nobody's watching him. Watch out for
Tom Waits as a pacifist weapons' designer, and Lena Olin - wasted in a merely
decorative role as the super-villain's girlfriend. Only fanboys with access to digital
freeze framing are likely to spot Stacey Travis as one of two identically costumed
'wonder women' at the super-team's recruitment drive, or Armageddon director, Michael
Bay, as one of the frat boys gang. And, I've no doubt there are other in-joke walk-ons
yet to be discovered but, vitally, Mystery Men almost transcends the tawdry schlock
worship of its genre spoof origin to deliver a sense of achievement and genuine wonder,
when these former no-hopers win through against all the odds, in the films'
It's not as fast-moving or imaginative as W.D. Richter's marvellously
eccentric, The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The Eighth Dimension (1985),
nor is it quite as wacky as John Carpenter's hilariously affected, Big Trouble In
Little China (1986), but it has enough going for it warrant the attention of anyone
who thinks the whole screen superhero phenomena is always best played for laughs.
DVD extras: excellent. Scene access in 18 chapters, 17-minute location
report, 19 minutes worth of deleted scenes, origins of the 'Mystery Men' revealed,
music highlights - 12 clips, production notes, cast biographies, director's commentary,
theatrical trailer, and there's even a web-link for those with DVD-ROM ware.
originally published online in VideoVista #19, October 2000
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