Mystery Men

on August 06, 1999 by Christine James
   Control over a futuristic neon metropolis predominantly populated by day-glo club kids is wrested from comically colorful villains by a fearless, body armor-clad superhero. Gloomy Gotham gets gleefully sent-up by Champion City, in which imprudently conspicuous gangs like the flame-coiffed, crimson begoggled Red-Eyes are easily thwarted in their rest-home robbery attempts by Captain Amazing ("As Good As It Gets'" Greg Kinnear), whose unfailing successes have led him to become an egomaniacal sellout. But Captain Amazing has done too good a job; having eradicated crime, he has nothing left to do--and worse, he's losing corporate sponsors. To generate some good PR, he orchestrates the parole of the criminally insane Casanova Frankenstein ("House on Haunted Hill's" Geoffrey Rush), with the plan of subsequently foiling the inevitable world-domination caper of his arch-enemy, thereby rejuvenating his popularity. But the deliriously demented Frankenstein turns the tables on his nemesis, kidnapping him with the intent of a bravura midnight execution, set to coincide with the destruction of Amazing's cherished Champion City.
   But Frankenstein is unaware of the determination of a bumbling band of wannabe superheroes, whose powers are dubious at best. The trio of rage-powered Mr. Furious ("There's Something About Mary's" Ben Stiller), spade-wielding Shoveler ("Happy, Texas'" William H. Macy) and cutlery-hurling Blue Raja ("Mystery, Alaska's" Hank Azaria) soon realize that they are no match for the debauched despot and his disco-loving cronies, and set about recruiting more makeshift crimefighters, including the Bowler ("200 Cigarettes'" Janeane Garofalo), Invisible Boy ("Good Burger's" Kel Mitchell) and the Spleen ("Batman Returns'" Paul Reubens). Now boasting the power of bowling, stealth and unholy flatulence, the Mystery Men plot to free Captain Amazing, while trying to come to terms with their own self-doubt.
   This affectionate and astute mockery of the big-budget, star-studded, sci-fi/fantasy crime-thriller genre boasts genius, cameo-bursting casting and frequently hilarious writing. But as outrageous as it gets, the film doesn't quite reach the go-for-broke, over-the-top, garishly giddy heights it's aiming for. Particularly wanting is the world of Casanova Frankenstein, whose opulent excesses and maniacal musings are disappointingly minimal. And brilliant British comedian Eddie Izzard is sorely underused as timewarped henchman Tony Pompadour; several times, the camera catches him standing around joylessly, even when his beloved disco music is playing. But despite not consistently sustaining its comic highs, moviegoers looking for laughs will sing the praises of this sweet "Mystery" of life. Starring Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, Hank Azaria, Geoffrey Rush, Greg Kinnear, Janeane Garofalo, Paul Reubens, Kel Mitchell, Wes Studi, Eddie Izzard and Tom Waits. Directed by Kinka Usher. Written by Neil Cuthbert. Produced by Lawrence Gordon, Mike Richardson and Lloyd Levin. A Universal release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for comic action violence and crude humor. Running time: 121 min
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