Review: 'Mystery Men' a hoot of a spoof
August 6, 1999
By Reviewer Paul Clinton
(CNN) -- The goofy new comedy "Mystery Men" is an action-heroes spoof based on the underground "Dark Horse" comic book series created by Bob Burden. The original series, and this live-action film, are both delightful sendups of all those cartoons featuring larger-than-life superheroes endowed with amazing powers.
Unfortunately, with a two-hour running time, this otherwise clever movie, overstays its welcome by at least 30 minutes.
But this good-natured, big-screen version of that cult comic classic does have a secret weapon: an all-star cast of gifted actors each of whom has a flair for comedy and for improvisation.
The film begins with three would-be superheroes who live in the futuristic metropolis of Champion City.
Shoveling the laughs
William H. Macy, in another of the deadpan performances that have become his trademark, is The Shoveler. He wields a shovel against bad guys, one and all. His transformation into an action-hero involves grabbing his trusty garden tool, donning his son's baseball catcher's vest, and slipping on roller-blade kneepads. Unfortunately his wife -- a great cameo role by Jennifer Lewis -- and his children are less-than-thrilled with his bumbling crime-fighting ambitions.
Ben Stiller is Mr. Furious, dressed in fashionable black from head to toe. He's the unofficial leader of the group, but he suffers from a super-size inferiority complex because his superpowers are limited to fits of bad temper.
Hank Azaria is Blue Raja, a guy who lives at home with his mother and, despite his name, doesn't wear anything blue. Instead, he sports a green turban and an over-the-top British accent while flinging forks and spoons -- never knives -- at anyone who crosses him.
They're not your average superheroes, but that's the point. In fact, the city already has a resident hero in Captain Amazing, played with pompous flair by Greg Kinnear. The most amazing thing about Captain Amazing is his ego. He's more concerned with corporate sponsorships than saving his fellow citizens from harm.
But when Amazing is captured by the evil Casanova Frankenstein, played with relish by Geoffrey Rush, our three ne'er-do-wells stumble into action and attempt to save the day.
Finally conceding they can't pull off Amazing's rescue alone, the trio searches for recruits. Enter Janeane Garofalo as the The Bowler, with her dead father's skull encased in a supernatural bowling ball; Paul Reubens as The Spleen, who targets evildoers with his high octane flatulence; and Kel Mitchell as The Invisible Boy, but only if no one is looking.
The newly assembled team is then coached by an out-of-work superhero-at-large, the Sphinx, played by Wes Studi. (You may remember him as one of the main Pawnee warriors in the 1990 "Dances With Wolves.") Before you can say, "Shazaam!" -- they're off.
White mustaches to comic colors
"Mystery Men" is shot in bright-primary cartoon colors and is the directorial debut of Kinka Usher. He's taken Hollywood's current fast track to feature directing, making commercials -- in his case the Dairy Management Inc. "Got Milk?" campaign -- to the screen.
This first effort offers great visuals (his tightly packed shots are framed like panels from a strip cartoon), lots of goofy action, razzle-dazzle special effects and sharp comedic delivery by all involved.
Sadly, Usher gives us too much of this good thing and fails to yell, "Cut!" when he should have. But if you're looking for escapism from the summer heat, "Mystery Men" may be the ticket. Just check your mind at the door, and brace yourself for lots of silly humor.
"Mystery Men" opens nationwide on Friday and is rated PG-13 with a running time of 120 minutes.
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