Mystery Men - * * *

Mystery Men

Do we really need a superhero spoof? The last two Batman films were comic enough, and the filmic landscape is littered with the likes of Blankman and Meteor Man. Yet, with sharp writing and a fine cast, Mystery Men confidently defies expectations and presents a truly funny comedy.

Champion City is enduring a wonderful era free from serious crime and worry. That is thanks to the truly amazing superhero, Captain Amazing (played by Greg Kinnear). He has fought and vanquished all of the cities supervillains, gaining the love of the populace, and a slew of product endorsements as a result. However, with no worthwhile opponents left, Amazing’s star is dimming. Wouldn’t luck have it…Amazing’s arch-enemy, Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush), has just been released from the insane asylum. But when the rusty Captain Amazing falls into Casanova’s grasp, the whole of Champion City is as risk.

Luckily Captain Amazing is far from the only superhero in the city. Mystery Men introduces us to three heroes in waiting who are eager to get the spotlight. There’s The Shoveler (William H. Macy), who digs very well. The Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), is neither blue, nor a raja, but he is a master of silverware (forks and spoons only… knives are for amateurs). Rounding out the trio is Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), who doesn’t seem to have superpowers, but can get really really mad.

But facing Casanova Frankenstein and his gang of Disco Boys are a tough opponent for three second-rate heroes. So, the trio decide to recruit fresh talent, such as The Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell), who can only turn invisible while no one sees him. There’s The Spleen (Paul Reubens), with gastronomic powers galore, and The Bowler (Janeane Garofalo), who keeps her father’s skull in her bowling ball. Finally, there’s the mysterious Sphinx (Wes Studi), who is brimming with bon-bons of enigmatic wisdom. Together, these seven heroes race against time to rescue Captain Amazing and restore Champion City from the clutches of the evil Casanova Frankenstein.

It takes a little while for Mystery Men to find its rhythm. It starts with a ludicrous crime sequence that seems lifted straight out of the old Batman television series. However, once we are introduced to our cadre of heroes, the movie enters a very comfortable cadence. The ensemble works exceedingly well, painting a vivid (and humorous) portrait of teamwork.

The true strength of the movie is the dialogue. From Mr. Furious’ mixed metaphors to The Sphinx’s gems of pseduo-wisdom, the film is generously littered with memorable lines and funny asides. Those familiar with comic book superheroes will find plenty of delightful in-jokes, many of which are completely accessible to the comic book novice as well.

The script’s biggest flaw is in giving Mr. Furious a token romance with a local waitress (Claire Forlani). The pairing provides some mildly amusing comic scenes, but little chemistry. In fact, the interplay between Stiller and Janeane Garofalo sets off many more sparks than any of Forlani’s scenes. The waitress character adds nothing to the movie.

The film’s conclusion wraps things up a bit too neatly. Every hero gets his or her one chance to shine. It is almost as if each one has drawn a number, and gets to perform in exact order. Perhaps it would have been acceptable if the one-at-a-time sequence wasn’t so obvious.

Once the film gets warmed up, Mystery Men becomes a hilarious spoof. With a superb cast and a laugh-filled script, this is one spoof that is truly superpowered.

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