Mystery Men (1999)

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Mystery Men (1999)

Post  BoG on Thu Apr 30, 2015 12:50 pm

Based on Bob Burden's comic books (famous for 'Flaming Carrot') and utilizing the term "Mystery Men" from the golden age of mysterious costumed heroes, there's nothing very mysterious about this bunch of lower-middle class everymen who feel a need to dress up and play hero. This type of satire on super-heroes is difficult to pull off since most people think any super-hero is a satire anyway. Grown men and women dressed in strange costumes are hard to take seriously, unless you're a pre-teen, usually. This movie uses the overall silly super-hero premise as a springboard and dives headfirst into the utterly odd world of super-heroics, focusing on a group of costumed do-gooders who are blue-collar and low rent. They have no money for fancy headquarters or super weapons (which most super-heroes in comic books always seem to), and even no super-powers. The Bowler (Janeane Garofalo), introduced late, does have a supernatural bowling ball she tosses about, but that's it. When you think about it, this movie presentation of super-heroes comes closer than most in depicting what it would really be like if super-heroes actually existed. I always found the endless supply of funds for HQ and transport in super-hero comics to be really tough to buy into.
The satire works, for the most part. The heroes here are pretty inept. They usually start out OK on a mission, such as in the beginning, to the rescue at an old folks home. They have the right attitude and commitment. But we find that this gets them only so far, as even lousy-seeming criminals get the best of them in the end, and the heroes limp back to their homes with cuts and bruises. The core trio are very good in their roles: Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), the Shoveler (William H. Macy) and Raja (Hank Azaria) form the epicenter of a great cast. The only real hero seems to be Capt. Amazing (Greg Kinnear), but he's an arrogant opportunist heavy into endorsements. The underdog heroes are placed in the position of rescuing him from the villain (Geoffrey Rush), a Germanic psycho job resembling a combo Lex Luthor/Joker, but they tend to foul things up, so we know things won't go too well. However, since their hearts are in the right place (unlike Capt. Amazing), they should persevere, with the help of the truly mysterious Sphinx (Wes Studi).
It's amusing throughout, with some of the loser-heroes, notably Stiller as Mr.Furious, trapped by in-fighting and loss of confidence. The verbal sparring between Furious and most of the others is worth a chuckle or two, especially when he challenges the sagely advice of the Sphinx. Overall, this is a lot like a humorous version of Watchmen (2009), the same concept of gritty yet under-powered costumed heroes. There is also more than a little dark humor, since in order for the plot to proceed, Capt. Amazing needs to be disposed of and his exit is particularly nasty. The set design and atmosphere are quite well done, having a vaguely futuristic / Gotham City feel to it. This doesn't become an instant classic, probably because of the director's inexperience. He focuses a bit too much on fancy angles & editing, taking away from the whole satirical experience. It could of used some fine-tuning in some sequences and the 3rd act seems sort of by the numbers to get things resolved in a heroic manner. But it's fairly enjoyable, reminding most of us of why we liked to sit down and read those four-color adventures in the first place: they were a fun escape from the rigors of conformity. BoG's Score: 7 out of 10
Mystery Trivia: there's a rumor going around on some websites like IMDb that director Kinka Usher is actually Tim Burton using a pseudonym, but this film doesn't really fit Burton's distinctive style... Usher's credits are sparse, mostly work in commercials.
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