As is the trend this summer, I have not read the original source material from which this movie was based. I can’t imagine that I would want to, now – Mr. Furious limned by anyone other than Ben Stiller would be wrong; anyone but William H. Macy giving voice to The Shoveler would be criminal; and any other interpretation of the Blue Raja than Hank Azaria’s would set me to crying. Mystery Men is one cheeky, clever movie, with plenty of silliness and lots of great gags and basically, some of the best comedic minds of our decade running around getting to be comic book characters of wanna-be superheroes. How can you beat that? The management of the Nice Theatre In Town (The Gateway) had shoved Mystery Men down in a little puppet theatre at the edge of the building – one screen! Needless to say, midway through opening day they moved it to a larger screen – the audience was there and we were rarin’ to go!!! I was pleased but not surprised to see such a good turnout – it’s always so much more fun with a large, enthusiastic audience. And we laughed and we laughed!
Oscar nominee Greg Kinnear is perfect as the smarmy sell-out superhero that our sub-par heroes need to save. Multiple (?) Oscar nominee William H. Macy is one of this band. Multiple Emmy nominee and possible Oscar nominee Ben Stiller is another; Janeane Garafalo another; shunned television genius Paul Reubens is yet another. They go up against Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush as the hilariously named Casanova Frankenstein in a fantastically designed Champion City. Homage to all forms of comics and comic-based movies and sci fi extravaganzas abound: Champion City is part Gotham City, part Metropolis, and part the bleak multicultural sprawl of Blade Runner’s city. Mystery Men is packed with peanuts and really satisfies.
First time director Kinka Usher played around with tone – the opening scene is a weird, City of Lost Children super surreal party at an old-folk’s home, but overall the movie is smooth and silly and fun and funny! She has a wowser of a cinematographer – Stephen Burum did Snake Eyes, Mission Impossible, The Shadow, War of the Roses, The Untouchables, Body Double, Something Wicked This Way Comes…I mean, this guy knows what he is doing! And it shows – lots of kooky comic booky angles which in a way seem kind of amateur until you realize how difficult they are and how they are not distorted or badly lit – the guy is a genius. Plus, you know, it’s based on the Dark Horse comic books so of course, you see these angles in the artwork. Kirk M. Petruccelli (also production designer for Blade, another comic book adapted to life with great success) built a gorgeous, wonderful Champion City – lots of cool details and really nice work. Modely-looking models, but so what? Maybe someone should give Kinka and Stephen and Kirk the next Batman movie so we don’t have to watch Joel Schumacher ruin that franchise any further.
Screenwriter Neil Cuthbert apparently has done this, Hocus Pocus, and a TV movie. You would never know it – the dialogue is so snappy I wonder if he just wrote a scene outline and let the SuperGenius cast work it out. They don’t even make fun of goofy comic speak (well, except when Mr. Furious is about to RAGE), it’s really amusing, natural funny talk. Plenty of great digs at the hysterical conventions of comic book herodom – you know, Clark Kent hiding behind his glasses, or Bruce Wayne chatting with Batman on the phone. There’s even some nice fart humor for the kids. And Tom Waits. Why are you at the computer, go see it now!
Ensemble comedy is best when it’s done with people familiar with the genre – Reubens is kind of a soloist (no pun intended) and Kel Mitchell (Invisible Boy) is the up-and-comer kid, but the rest of the team bicker together like old friends. It’s marvelous. For those of you who just don’t know, Hank Azaria is the one of my two future boyfriends in MM (besides Ben Stiller) who does a large variety of voices on the Simpsons – more voices than you think, probably. I love him! Helen Hunt, your forehead is too big! You have an Oscar – give me Hank! And, like no one says “whoa” like Keanu Reeves, no one can pull off “golly” like William H. Macy. Ben and Janeane, well, they are the perfect non-couple. It’s very very very funny, tongue-in-cheek but still an homage, like Airplane was an homage to disaster movies. Go see it! And then see Muppets From Space if it’s still playing!
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 8/6/99
Time in minutes 121
Director Kinka Usher
Studio Universal Pictures