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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Saturday, April 19, 2014 - Edition No 893 

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MYSTERY MEN

SYNOPSIS:
During the day, Roy (Ben Stiller) works in a junkyard in Champion City. But at night, he's the superhero Mr Furious, fighting crime with the force of his anger and the help of his friends the Shoveller (William H. Macy) and the fork-throwing Blue Raja (Hank Azaria). Unfortunately, these three aren't too good at defeating bad guys. As well, there's already a much more successful superhero in Champion City, Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear) a celebrity who makes millions through product endorsements. But when the supervillain Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) is released from prison and kidnaps the Captain, Mr Furious and his team finally have their opportunity. With the help of some new allies they recruit – the Spleen (Paul Reubens), the Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell), the Bowler (Janeane Garofolo) and the Sphinx (Wes Studi) – they set out to rescue Captain Amazing and save the world.

"Mystery Men belongs to the modern tradition of spectacular Hollywood flops – overproduced, self-consciously quirky comic-book fantasies like The Last Action Hero or Hudson Hawk (which was actually much funnier). Often these are blockbuster movies made by people who think they're too cool for blockbuster movies, so the expensive special effects seem weightless and stupid. Thus, though the elaborate futuristic design of Champion City derives from Blade Runner and the Batman series, the place has no clear identity in itself: it's just a generic parody superhero world. The whole movie is equally throwaway, assembled on mix'n'match principles, with many separate concepts and styles jostling for space. Ultra-square white man William H. Macy is given a stereotypically sassy black wife. We glimpse street signs in Asian languages. Tom Waits plays a mad scientist (why?). The right director (like Tim Burton or Luc Besson) can make such pop chaos exhilarating. Here, it's just a mess. Perhaps a third of the material works: the good jokes, mainly small-scale and verbal, are drowned in the garish, cluttered visual style. The film is like a thick, oily stew with bits of improvisational comedy floating on top. Since the characters are all 'superheroes' with different powers, each actor has to put on a separate, detachable solo show. Given the uneven script, some (like Macy) succeed at this, while others (like Geoffrey Rush) fail miserably. The ineffectual hero, Mr. Furious, is the one truly inspired creation: as played by Ben Stiller, he's basically a frustrated little kid, tripping over his sentences, seething with self-importance but unable to express it except by getting really, really annoyed with everyone. As he keeps warning people, he's a 'powder keg waiting to explode' – though in these frantic, jumbled surroundings, it's not surprising that nobody takes much notice."
Jake Wilson

"We’ve got a blind date with destiny … and it looks like she’s ordered the lobster." Made me laugh. If you don’t fall into the slightest smile at this line you probably shouldn’t waste your money. Mystery Men is fun. Pure and simple. Not being a comic fan, I’m completely unfamiliar with Bob Burden’s Dark Horse Comic Book Series on which Neil Cuthbert based his screenplay. But familiarity with the genre is enough. It would be difficult to grow up in the latter part of the twentieth century without at least a nodding acquaintance with the likes of Superman, Batman, Spiderman and the like. Mystery Men not only provides us with a great satire of the stuff of which such superheroes are made, but also gives us a nice set of underdogs with whom to identify. Anyone who’s ever looked in the mirror and imagined themselves as rich and famous will relate to our heroes in Mystery Men. It’s not a great film by any means. The pace initially is terribly slow and the setup unnecessarily cumbersome. But once first time director Kinka Usher gets the hang of the pace, we’re in for a rollicking good time. Cuthbert’s script has plenty of zingy one liners as well as the odd well placed groaner. Azaria, Stiller, Reubens, and Garofalo are all reliably funny. The real standout in the cast is William H. Macy. His performance as The Shoveler is beautifully underplayed and carries the film through it’s rough spots. Mystery Men is well worth a look."
Lee Gough

"The idea of superheroes who, well, really aren’t all that super (or heroic for that matter) but who’d really want to be is funny in itself. But in Mystery Men, the idea is taken to all sorts of hilarious conclusions. Based on the Dark Horse comics, this film adaptation is both a playful romp through the superhero genre and an often incisive parody of it. You just have to look at the some of the characters. Captain Amazing, for instance, isn’t the pure hearted crime-buster you’d expect; he’s a shallow money and publicity hound supported by big corporations. On the down side, however, director Kinka Usher spends way too much time on showy special effects and some none too involving action sequences. These elements don’t mesh particularly well with the remainder of the film, and the final result is a bit of a mishmash. Also, the film is far too long (inexplicably, the version released here is about 20 minutes longer than the US version). But when it strikes the right note - which is pretty regularly - Mystery Men is a crack-up. Stiller, Azaria, Macy and Garofalo all manage to pull off their roles with aplomb; and both Geoffrey Rush and Greg Kinnear seem to have a lot of fun in their roles. I was less taken with Paul Reubens and Kel Mitchell; but Claire Forlani brings a touch of class to proceedings as the object of Roy’s affections. Mystery Men is something of a hit-and-miss affair; but for me the hits clearly outnumbered the misses."
David Edwards



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 1

MYSTERY MEN (PG)
(US)

CAST: Hank Azaria, Janeane Garofalo, William H. Macy, Kel Mitchell, Paul Reubens, Ben Stiller, Wes Studi, Greg Kinnear, Lena Olin, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Waits, Eddie Izzard, Claire Forlani, Ricky Jay, Louise Lasser

DIRECTOR: Kinka Usher

PRODUCER: Lawrence Gordon , Lloyd Levin, Mike Richardson

SCRIPT: Neil Cuthbert, Bob Burden (comic book series by Dark Horse)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Stephen H. Burum

EDITOR: Conrad Buff

MUSIC: Stephen Warbeck

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kirk M. Petruccelli

RUNNING TIME: 121 min

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE DATE: January 13, 2000

VIDEO RELEASE: June 28, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Pictures Video







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