Mystery Men

Directed by Kinka Usher
Starring: William H. Macy, Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Hank Azaria, Geoffrey Rush, Greg Kinnear.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for comic action violence and crude humor.

Review by Matt Heffernan
August 7, 1999

Why do good people do bad things? Are the good people being influenced by an evil force? Maybe if somebody just explained to them that their actions are being influenced, the evil ones will be cast out. In other words, a few agents need to be fired.

Mystery Men is based on a comic book by Bob Burden. I've never read it myself, but this film doesn't make a good case for it. In Champion City, virtually all criminals have been eliminated by Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear). Even with this low crime rate, a few wannabe super heroes want to do their part for fighting crime, even if they don't have the powers (or commercial endorsements) of Captain Amazing. At an event for senior citizens, a gang calling themselves the "Red Eyes" try to rob them. To their rescue come The Shoveler (William H. Macy), Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), and The Blue Raja (Hank Azaria). The Red Eyes easily handle them, until good ol' Captain Amazing shows up to take care of matters.

The trio are both repectful and envious of Captain Amazing, and don't get any recognition for getting there first. The big guy, on the other hand, is bored with doing little jobs like saving old people from rag-tag gangs. All the archcriminals of Champion City are out of commission, leaving no suitable rivals. Captain Amazing is billionaire Lance Hunt by day, who is also on the parole board. His former nemesis, Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush), is up for parole from the mental institution. Hunt convinces the rest of the board that Frankenstein should be freed.

The first thing Frankenstein does with his freedom is destroy the mental institution, which brings Captain Amazing to his lair. He captures the hero, and makes a plot to kill him (not right away, of course). The plucky trio discover this, and go about trying to rescue him. They can't get past the Disco-garbed henchmen themselves, so they enlist some more would-be superheroes. They find Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell) and Spleen (Paul Reubens, a.k.a. Pee-Wee Herman), who help them hold tryouts. The only person they get is Carol, The Bowler (Janeane Garofalo), who is the daughter of Carmine, The Bowler. She has his skull encased in a bowling ball, which now contains the spirit of her father, and can fly around on its own. Then they find a guru in The Sphinx (Wes Studi). The seven are now set to go on their mission.

If Garofalo had not been in this film, it would have gotten only one star, at most. I think she may have had some input on her lines, because they were on a level far above the rest of this dismal script. If you are a big fan of hers, you might want to see this just for her (but don't worry about getting in for the first 20 minutes). This film wastes a dream cast, with Kinnear giving the only other remotely entertaining performance. Unfortunately, those roles are very small, leaving the rest to fend for themselves. I could tell that Macy really wanted to do well, but he had nothing funny to say or do. I think Stiller wasn't acting in his moments of on-screen rage. Rush didn't seem to care at all, and he just phones this one in.

This is the feature directorial debut for Kinka Usher, who has had great success directing TV commercials. He even won a Director's Guild award for his work. His efforts include the Chihuahua campaign for Taco Bell and the "Cupid" commercial for Miller Lite. He has obviously mastered the 30-second arena, but he has failed with a feature.

I think I've been a good boy this year, so here's what I want for Christmas: a really good film with Garofalo, Stiller, Macy, Kinnear, and Rush. They are all favorite actors of mine, and I want to look back on this cast and have a happy memory (it's bad enough that I couldn't stop thinking about Fargo and Seven Samurai, making this film seem all the worse). First, though, they need to fire whoever told them to make this film.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Mystery Men (1999)

Here's some merchandise for sale at
Mystery Men (1999) -- VHS
Mystery Men (1999) -- DVD
Mystery Men: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc Home
Review Archive
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings

Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan