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+.
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