Melinda Sue Gordon, Universal Studios
Janeane Garafalo as The Bowler, Kel Mitchell as The Invisible Kid, Wes Studi as The Sphinx, William H. Macy as The Shoveler, Paul Reubens as The Spleen, Ben Stiller as Mr. Furious and Hank Azaria as The Blue Raja, from left, in "Mystery Men."
(Sort of) Real people,
A group of unlikely heroes takes arms (and forks and shovels)
against the bad guys in a comic film with its heart in the right place
Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla
If you have had enough of brooding Dark Knights, or of Too-Good-To-Be-True Men of Steel, here are the "other guys," the kinds of heros that would probably show up to save OUR day.
Mr. Furious (an over-the-top Ben Stiller) leads a trio of what local cops contemptuously call "wanna-bes," rounded out by "Fargo's" William H. Macy as the Shoveller (the straight man who says modestly "we just fight crime...call it what you will") and Hilarious Hank Azaria, who lends his vocal talents to "The Simpsons," is the obtuse Blue Raja, who speaks in a phony British accent and has not a speck of the color blue in his costume. He throws silverware with uncanny accuracy, although he has trouble flinging knives which is one the things that makes Mr. Furious so hopped-up mad.
It seems Amazing has done his work too well, and there are no real battles left for him to fight. So when his arch-nemesis Casanova Frankenstein (a delightfully droll Geoffrey "Shine" Rush) is released from the asylum, Amazing hopes for the kind of apocalyptic battle that will bring Amazing's sinking stock back to the fore. So when Amazing is captured by his mortal enemy, there's nobody left to save the day except...you guessed it.
Realizing they are woefully overmatched, they try to recruit some additional firepower (which leads to the Superhero Audition, one of the best scenes in the movie). They wind up with the Spleen (Paul "Pee Wee Herman" Reubens), whose incapacitating gasses are best left undescribed, the Invisible Kid (Kel Mitchell) who can only turn invisible when nobody's watching, the Sphinx ("Dances With Wolves"' Wes Studi) who utters semi-mystical phrases of meaningless babble (sample; "If you do not master your rage, your rage will master you") and the Bowler (Janeane Garofalo), who keeps her father's skull in her bowling ball and carries on conversations with her departed dad that blur the line between neurotic and psychotic but settle into a kind of Jewish angst.
Director Kinka Usher tries way too hard to turn this into a roller coaster ride of comedy and action, winding up with something that tain't one thing nor t'other. There are car chases and fight scenes, but mostly played with a wink. The set design is memorable, sort of a cross between Gotham City and the overlooked sci-fi flick Dark City. There are a lot of terrific running jokes; only Mr. Furious seems to notice the remarkable resemblance between Captain Amazing and his altar ego, for example. Note the corporate sponsorships on the uniform of Captain Amazing, for another.
This is definite eye candy, highly entertaining eye candy at that. The cast is formidable, with some of the most underrated talents in Hollywood. The superhero genre has been languishing of late, although the eaterly awaited X-Men movie might breathe some life into it if done right. Superhero parodies have not traditioinally sold well in the comic book store, and there's no reason to think this one is going to bust down the box office bank. Still, if you want to get away from this summer's staggering load of superhits, or unusually high number of fright flicks, here is the kind of movie that will keep the parents entertained without having their kids squirming in their seats.