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Laramie Movie Scope:
Mystery Men

A comedy-satire that almost works

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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August 22, 1999 -- "Mystery Men" is almost a good film, but doesn't quite make the grade because of a weak screenplay, direction and editing.

The idea is a good one and the sets are great-looking and the actors give it their all, but the whole thing just can't quite climb the hill. The story takes place in Champion City, a Gotham City look-alike place where a slightly dense superhero, Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear) has rid the city of all villains. Without a super villain to battle him, Amazing, who wears more product endorsements on his uniform than a race car driver, stands to lose some money.

Amazing decides to release a super villain named Cassanova Frankenstein (well played by Geoffrey Rush of "Shine") so he can again have a worthy opponent. The plan backfires and Amazing is captured. The city's only hope is a rag-tag collection of wanna be superheroes, the Mystery Men.

The Shoveler (William H. Macey of "Fargo" and "Pleasantville"), Mister Furious (Ben Stiller of "There's Something About Mary") and the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria of "Godzilla" and "The Birdcage") are old friends who want to be superheroes, but they realize that Cassanova Frankenstein is too much for them, so they recruit more help. Among the helpers are Spleen (Paul Reubens, formerly known as Pee Wee Herman), Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell) The Bowler (Janeane Garofalo of "The Truth About Cats and Dogs") and The Sphinx (Wes Studi of "The Last of the Mohicans").

They also get help from a kindly weapons designer, Doc Heller (singer Tom Waits, who appeared in "Bram Stoker's Dracula"). The movie is well cast and the actors do a fine job. Ben Stiller is especially good as the confused Mister Furious. Macey also does his usual solid job as a blue collar hero whose wife (Jennifer Lewis of "The Preacher's Wife") doesn't understand his seemingly hopeless desire to be a super hero.

The screenplay fails to deliver good punch lines after a number of promising set-ups. It also could have been tightened up a little in the editing department, as some scenes run on a little too long and others could be cut altogether. The whole movie seems to lose its direction a little too often. However, it is a solid concept. The whole super hero training camp idea with the derivative sayings of The Sphinx was clever, but should have had a better payoff.

I couldn't help but pull for these guys, though. There's something very appealing about a bunch of bumblers who realize they aren't supermen, but who nevertheless find courage, and nobility, in their willingness to sacrifice themselves to save others. Their lack of cynicism is refreshing. Macey's speech to rally the squad, no doubt based on Henry V, was actually stirring, and sadly out of step with today's self-centered society. It isn't quite a good movie, but I do admire the effort, and the spirit, that went into it. The movie rates a C+.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 1999 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]