STARRING: Ben Stiller,  Hank Azaria, Greg Kinnear, Janeane Garofalo,  Geoffrey Rush, William H. Macy, Kel Mitchell, Paul Reubens, Tom Waits

1999, 111 Minutes, Directed by: Kinka Usher

Description: Based on the Dark Horse comic book series, Mystery Men follows the travails of three B-list avengers--Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), the Shoveler (William H. Macy), and the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria)--as they fight to make themselves known to the citizens of Champion City, quite difficult to do when the flashy Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear, never better) takes all the cool gigs and has product endorsements up the ying-yang. According to them, it's all a matter of timing--never mind that Mr. Furious never rises above a snit, or that the Blue Raja wears green. Their big break comes when Captain Amazing is abducted by the evil Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush), and it's up to this motley crew to save Champion City.

Do we really need a movie that satirizes the genre conventions of the superhero comic book?

Probably not - it's been done by countless stand-up comedians, TV and newspaper cartoons, and obviously by the comics themselves (Mystery Men is based on a Dark Horse comic book series of the same title). Besides, we all know of the genre's quirky eccentricities and inherent stupidities, but love it despite (or maybe because of) them.

Much for example is made in the movie about how people believe that a certain well-known superhero isn't his alter ego, a well-known billionaire - even though it is quite obvious, since his only disguise for his "secret identity" consists of wearing a pair of glasses resembling those of Clark Kent's when he is not Superman. This is however old hat and has been done countless times before - and done better.

"Mystery Men's biggest problem is that, well, to put it simply: it simply just isn't all that funny . . ."

Mystery Men's biggest problem is that, well, to put it simply: it simply just isn't all that funny. Period. Chronicling the tale of a bunch of misfit outsider superheroes with no real superpowers who has to save the day when a real superhero is kidnapped by supervillain, Mystery Men tries to be camp (at times) and vulgar (at others). However the movie can't sustain any high level of hilarity: the jokes simply aren't funny enough, the bad taste not bad enough and the camp not camp enough.

That's not to say that Mystery Men has nothing to offer: it features some nice comic book style production designs of a Gotham-like city that can be described as a mixture between the Batman movies and Metropolis, but reminded me more of the excellent Watchmen graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Gibbons.

The effects, done on a no-doubt low budget, aren't too bad. Some scenes will have you chuckling, but unfortunately the movie's best moments were revealed in the trailer. I also liked the real superhero being endorsed by several multinational companies - his superhero costume is full of corporate logo stickers (bit like the spaceship at the beginning of Species 2).

Ultimately Mystery Men is a lot like this year's other major sci-fi comedy, Wild Wild West - it is moderately entertaining at best, but is mostly just mediocre and unfunny. You'll find more laughs in any episode of South Park, Futurama or The Simpsons.

While watching Mystery Men, I kept on being reminded of said Watchmen graphic novel and wishing that they'd made a movie of that instead. Both are revisionist works although Watchmen takes the superhero mythos much more seriously.



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