The Good: Excellent cast, Decent concept, One or two moments of humor
The Bad: Terrible use of cast (poor acting), Simple and disappointing plot, Largely not funny!
The Basics: In a complete waste of time and talent, wonderful comic actors end up mired in a superhero dramedy fails to be funny or even entertaining.
Every now and then, there comes a film that has an awesome concept, a great cast, and a convincing trailer and it turns into such a miserable viewing experience for the viewer that it is almost enough to make one swear off movies (especially those featuring the performers in such an abomination) altogether. Mystery Men is one of those types of movies and whatever your hopes for the film are, odds are if you are a fan of any of the principle actors involved - like William H. Macy, Hank Azaria, Janeane Garofalo, Eddie Izzard, and Ben Stiller - you will be woefully disappointed.
Champion City, a generic city in the United States, is a place populated by heroes, none greater than Captain Amazing. Captain Amazing has fallen on hard times and to make some money, he releases the villainous Casanova Frankenstein from prison. His plan soon goes awry and he ends up captured by the enemy. It then falls to a group of lesser, unimpressive superheroes to rise to the occasion to save Captain Amazing and Champion City. The fate of both is in the hands of the perpetually upset (though never usefully angry) Mr. Furious, the fork-throwing Blue Raja, the digging ace known as The Shoveller, the sardonic Bowler, the gassy Spleen, the (not really) Invisible Boy, and the inscrutable Sphynx.
The thing about Mystery Men is that in reading what I just wrote, the movie lived up to its entire potential. What I mean by that is that the only gag of substance in Mystery Men is the revelation of what the less than super powers of the characters are. So, for example, the first time the Blue Raja throws a fork, it's mildly amusing. When he does it repeatedly . . . well, it's stale by the second throw. Invisible Boy is a clever commentary; he reasons that because he is black and everyone ignores him he must be invisible. But that's the joke, it's done and in the movie it's a joke that is completely belabored.
And the less said about The Spleen the better. Yes, it's all fart jokes with him.
This is one of those terrible movies where all of the best material appears in the preview. If you've seen the trailer and enjoyed it, you've seen the cream of this movie. In fact, if you see the Smashmouth video for "All Star," you've seen the best footage from this movie - maybe it's even better without any of the dialogue.
The thing is, the characters in this film are not genuinely characters. Instead, they are jokes and once the joke is revealed (about a minute out of the movie), we're left with two hours of watching a series of jokes try to reinvent themselves over and over again. The best way to describe this movie is like seeing a high school student with a t-shirt with a phrase on it. The shirt says something like "I kiss better than your boyfriend," you read the shirt, evaluate the wearer, laugh or don't, and move on. When the person keeps coming by with that same t-shirt on, most people don't keep reading it over and over again. We got it the first time. Mystery Men is the type of one-trick pony that asks the viewer to continually reread the t-shirt, expecting that our reaction will be the same each time. And they're banking on that reaction being laughter.
Writers Bob Burden, Neil Cuthbert and Director Kinka Usher are lucky when they get the first laugh.
This is a startlingly un-funny movie for a film that has such comic talents as Paul Rubens (best known as Pee Wee Herman), Hank Azaria, Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo. These are people well known for making this reviewer laugh. I like their work. Yet here they are operating where the lines are not funny, the situation is not treated as funny and the jokes are mostly simple and stupid.
Unfortunately, there's not enough in the script even to allow the genuine acting talents to break out and impress the viewer with what they can do as far as presentation. William H. Macy is a favorite of mine and he was robbed of any awards for his masterful performance in Magnolia (reviewed here!). In Mystery Men, Macy plays The Shoveller and there is not enough written for him to do anything other than deliver the few lines he has, as best he can and let the performance die its quick death. Similarly, the truly great actress Lena Olin appears briefly in Mystery Men and is not given enough to work with to actually perform.
Adding to the poor writing, terrible characters and the generally low-quality of the acting, director Kinka Usher fails to create any visual sense with this movie that the film is progressing. The pace is belabored and weighed down with continual attempts to replay the same joke and Usher fails to make the film look good while slowly killing the audience with the same stale routines.
All in all, this is a movie that is an utter disappointment that fails to produce anything worthwhile despite having the potential in much of the talent to create something unique and entertaining. Save yourself two hours of life; find something else to watch this weekend!
For other superhero films, be sure to check out my reviews of:
My Super Ex-Girlfriend
For other film reviews, be sure to visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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