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Overall Rating

Awesome: 17.33%
Worth A Look44.67%
Average: 25.33%
Pretty Bad: 6.67%
Total Crap: 6%

14 reviews, 66 user ratings

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Mystery Men
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by Rob Gonsalves

"A pretty funky superhero parody, with a killer cast."
4 stars

Superheroes have always been a hair away from the absurd: I mean, c'mon -- Batman? Aquaman? Spider-Man? Thus, four-color gods have been targets for parody almost as long as comics have existed.

I'm not familiar with Bob Burden's original "Mystery Men" stories (which appeared in his cult-favorite, absurdist comic Flaming Carrot), but imaginative writers in the medium have long punctured the self-serious balloon of pulp superfiction. Alan Moore's Watchmen imagined a universe in which superheroes were outlawed and driven into exile; it was a serious work that nonetheless treated its heroes as misfit schlubs (picture Albert Brooks in a cape and mask). The caustic British comic Marshal Law recast superheroes as power-drunk psychos; the hero was the guy who killed superheroes.

So, to longtime comics readers -- whether or not they've read Burden's take on the supergenre -- the movie Mystery Men is nothing new. To the average moviegoer, though, it will feel fresh, and it has an added layer of parody: as directed by Kinka Usher (famous for his "Yo quiero Taco Bell" ads), the movie is often a straight-faced take-off of the movies that almost double-handedly killed the superhero-movie genre -- Joel Schumacher's neon-soaked Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. Top it off with a mega-hip cast -- finally, Janeane Garofalo as a superheroine! -- and you have an instant cult comedy that doesn't walk or talk like anything else out there.

In Champion City, the corporate-sponsored ubermensch Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear in full pompous bloom) is bored. He's defeated every supervillain worth his time; the only baddies left are scrappy gangs without guidance. The Captain has an idea: His greatest adversary, Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush, cheerfully gobbling the scenery), is about to be paroled, and the Captain greases the wheels for Casanova's release from the asylum. He then smugly pays a visit to Casanova, who just as smugly takes him hostage. Crime begins to run rampant again in Champion City. Someone must save the day.

Someone turns out to be a group for whom the term "motley crew" was invented. We have: Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), desperately in need of anger-management counseling; the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), a faux-exotic hero who hurls every bit of silverware except knives ("I'm not Stab Man," he insists); the Shoveler (William H. Macy), darn good with a shovel; the Bowler (Janeane Garofalo), who wields a mean bowling ball; the Spleen (Paul Reubens), whose finger you do not want to pull; the Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell), who can become invisible only when nobody's looking; and the Sphinx (Wes Studi), the movie's goof on Jedi Masters. Given such unlikely material, these fine comic actors (even the sober-sided Wes Studi packs a fine deadpan) give each scene and line of dialogue a spin off-center. Other hipsters turn up for the party, too: Tom Waits as a weapons specialist, Eddie Izzard and Pras as disco gangsters, Lena Olin looking great (but unfortunately not doing much else) as Casanova's partner in crime.

Those not attuned to the movie's wobbly brand of humor (I laughed pretty much all the way through) will consider Mystery Men yet another cluttered dud wasting a killer cast. For me, the cast makes the movie -- the idea that all these people wanted to put on goofy costumes and poke deadpan fun at lurid comic-book clichés and the movies those clichés spawned. Mystery Men has an exuberantly tacky look; it gives you the cheap pleasures of brainless blockbusters without actually being brainless. It even has a biting subtext: the obscure, working-class heroes laboring in the shadow of the mighty Captain Amazing, either resentful of his success or in awe of it.

Their ultimate triumph is not defeating the nefarious Casanova Frankenstein, but finally getting some media attention. One wonders how long it will be before the Bowler has Pepsi ads stuck all over her ball, or Mr. Furious starts doing TV commercials for Prozac.

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originally posted: 12/28/06 11:40:16
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User Comments

1/01/20 dupadoit angel boy 4 stars
12/14/13 Mister Jimmy The super-hero auditions scene had me laffin my ass off! 5 stars
1/29/09 Nori This was one of those super corney awful movies that you absolutely loved. I enjoyed it. 5 stars
11/22/08 Shaun Wallner Great Film! 4 stars
9/14/08 nastyrabbit There's never been an ensemble cast with this kind of chemistry's PERFECT! 5 stars
12/06/07 Adrian BUT I AM SCARED OF THE SUZIES! 5 stars
4/16/07 Ne44FaSt Funny when they accidently psychofraculate Capt. Amazing 5 stars
7/29/06 David Cohen Speaks to the inner hero in all of us 4 stars
1/23/06 Indrid Cold I had heard that this is a lot funnier than you'd expect. It's true. 4 stars
5/03/05 dwarzel There are heroes/villains in the Marvel universe with MUCH lamer gimmicks than these. 4 stars
1/25/05 Jeff Anderson MY KIND OF UNIQUE SUPER HERO FILM! A great double feature with THE SPECIALS with Rob Lowe. 5 stars
9/05/04 DM Silly but perfect for your inner 10-year old 4 stars
6/08/04 Elen Sly and witty, and fun for comic book geeks and non-geeks alike. 5 stars
1/07/04 Phil M. Aficionado Bizarre. A gas. Great casting. Must have cost a FORTUNE to make 4 stars
4/13/03 Jack Sommersby Forced and uncouth nonsense. Stiller's panache is film's only asset. 1 stars
7/20/02 Bastard Child of Mother Teresa Pretty darn good! Fry in heck, gay man! 4 stars
5/16/02 Gerox Hooha! Janeane ownz me. 4 stars
11/03/01 Andrew Carden A Few Very Funny Scenes Are Overblowed With Special Effects. Stiller Looks Terrible. 3 stars
10/04/01 Monday Morning Do the HBS reviewers get paid to write all that or do they just have time to burn? 5 stars
10/03/01 Butterbean Stiller is corny, like always, but this movie put a smile on my face 3 stars
8/16/01 Dakamus Janeane Garafalo = Sexiest woman alive. 5 stars
8/07/01 Kasey Anderson I had to keep watching it over & over. WOW! 5 stars
3/02/01 dave funnier than I expected. Loved Jeanene. 5 stars
1/29/01 Jared Barber The best movie ever. Funny, and creative. 5 stars
4/20/00 Sergio Allen It really really Sucked I wanted my money back I almost walked out thats how much it sucked 1 stars
4/07/00 SID Why do they have superpowers at the end? Doesn't that contradict the whole movie? 4 stars
4/01/00 Mr Happy This movie was horrible shit. Not funny unless you from Newyork. 1 stars
3/29/00 Pat Spline is so funny 5 stars
3/08/00 David Rogers Pretty funny but it could have been better. 4 stars
3/06/00 Kyle Broflovski Gut-busting hilarious, with shades of The Thing in one particular scene...:-) 5 stars
2/08/00 Joel Harwood CLARE FORLANI IS Hot so 5 stars for her but the movie sux big time 2 stars
1/30/00 Steve Total unadulterated boring crap 1 stars
1/26/00 Katherine Hughes Humerous and enjoyable 4 stars
1/23/00 Kevin Cho At least 100 to the 10th power better than I thought it would be. U catch PW Herms in it?! 5 stars
1/23/00 Quintas Brilliant, hilarious, see it. 5 stars
10/14/99 Sara Phillips 5 stars
10/08/99 Theresa Wonderful, Hilarious! Among the best were Azaria, Macy, Garofolo, and Stiller 5 stars
9/27/99 Weird Andy Like sex with an ex-girlfriend,fun at the time, but ultimately a cheapening experience. 3 stars
9/14/99 Ratso Good job, they took a great cast and idea and made a piece of shit! 1 stars
9/04/99 Andel Crodo A disappointment if you expect a superhero movie, but a thrill if you expect a goof on them 4 stars
9/02/99 PhilmPhreak It was pretty cool - check it out 4 stars
8/27/99 Ah Dooey Okay for this type of movie. The characters were funny. 3 stars
8/22/99 Daelic I laughed. I groaned. Not great, but it was good fun. 4 stars
8/19/99 Admiral Crunch hey, at least it kicked Power Rangers in the butt 3 stars
8/19/99 Nessus Not as good as the old Tick comics, but pretty funny in spots. 4 stars
8/19/99 Geoff Unique. Watchable. Fun. A decent escape for 2 hours. 4 stars
8/18/99 KK I fell asleep halfway into it. Not even worth the price of a rental. 1 stars
8/17/99 Obi Wan Movie sucked! All funny scenes can be seen on the trailer! 2 stars
8/16/99 Temper One of the most halarious and wicked movies that I've seen in a few years! 5 stars
8/15/99 Mark Levin Hilarious send-up of formulaic comic-book superhero genre. 5 stars
8/15/99 Cage Against The Machine I was definately disappointed. 2 stars
8/14/99 jen Can't remember the last time I thought about walking out before the end credits... 1 stars
8/13/99 Mike Snell Laughed my ass off 4 stars
8/13/99 Roman has its moments 3 stars
8/12/99 PurityJustBegs this film is saturated with wonderful potential, but that is lost in time-weary cliches 3 stars
8/12/99 Michael Hodgman This movie is frickin great 5 stars
8/11/99 Cherry Very funny movie! 5 stars
8/11/99 kirk uhhh something to do for fun 3 stars
8/11/99 Michael Grimm if you like campy humor this movie is for you 4 stars
8/10/99 jenn "Blu Smrf" what a great movie, that is fun for both adults and kids alike 5 stars
8/10/99 Jo Jo, The Idiot Circus Boy The only thing that kept me from falling asleep was trying to imagine Garofalo nekked. 1 stars
8/10/99 Laz lighten up folks.this is a fun,hip ride.much better than expected. 5 stars
8/10/99 jvt Stiller was the only worthwhile character, a huge let down 2 stars
8/10/99 elfpunkt Paul Ruebens getting leghumped by a skunk was funny. The movie was not. 1 stars
8/10/99 Z it's funny, laugh! 5 stars
7/28/99 David Gilmour Reminiscent of the first two Batman movies and Bukaroo Bonzai. 5 stars
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  06-Aug-1999 (PG-13)


  13-Jan-2000 (PG)

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