Mystery Men Review
By Joe Lozito
How many laughs can you get out of a handful of one-joke characters? Well, if your ensemble contains the talents of Janeane Garofalo, William H. Macy, Hank Azaria and Ben Stiller, the answer is: a lot. The superhero spoof "Mystery Men" is based on a Dark Horse comic book. It's no wonder then that the movie looks good on paper: a band of superhero wannabes must save Champion City when their real hero, Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear in the role his eyebrows were born to play) is captured by the evil Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush, biting into another juicy comic role). The only thing that saves this disaster-waiting-to-happen is the sheer fun the actors have with their roles.
Mr. Macy takes his trademark dry stare to new arid depths as The Shoveler. Mr. Azaria uses the talents he honed on the Simpsons to jump in and out of a perfectly affected British accent as the Blue Raja (don't ask about his name). Ms. Garofalo manages to be both cuddly and dangerous as the only female member of the group, and it turns out the only member with any real power: she wields the head of her dead father in a magic bowling ball. Mr. Stiller is saddled with the less enviable (and less interesting) role of Mr. Furious, whose sole power is his ability to get angry. The film tends to favor this character once too often, even going so far as to give him a would-be love interest. Perhaps in another draft of the script, the writers tried to make a statement about trying to be something you're not. Thankfully, most of this sentiment was cut out in the final draft.
Happily, what's left is a bunch of substantial comic actors ripping into their every moment on screen. Most notable is one hysterical scene in which the Men wreck havoc on Casanova while he's trapped in his limousine. The script keeps the jokes coming and director Kinka Usher creates an atmosphere that would make both Ridley Scott and Tim Burton proud.
What these hapless heroes are missing is that most of the great superheroes (and many of their names are dropped in the film) had some major event in their lives which transformed them - gamma rays, parents killed, home planet exploding, etc. The characters in this film seem to want to be heroes just because it's something to do. Other than that, however, the film's heart and funny bone are firmly in the right place, poking fun at every superhero truism that pop culture holds dear. In particular, an exchange in which Mr. Furious tries to convince The Shoveler that Captain Amazing is in fact his bespectacled alter ego Lance Hunt ("That's ridiculous! Captain Amazing wouldn't be able to see!").
If this dialog brings a smile to your face, then this is the movie for you - which is probably a good thing since, with an ending that leaves our heroes open for more adventures, we'll probably be seeing these "Men" again.