A Film by Kinka Usher

When I saw the trailers for Mystery Men, I was immediately intrigued. It looked freaky, funky, and very, very funny. Unfortunately, MM falls into that growing class of films which work better as trailers than as features.

Loosely based on a comic strip (and it shows), MM tells the story of a bunch of urban superhero wannabes. Ya got The Shoveller (William H. Macy), a henpecked construction worker who’s hot shit with a spade. Ya got Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), an angry young man who dissasembles junk for a living. And ya got the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), a 38-year-old Mama’s boy who burns incense, throws cutlery and dreams of being a homosexual Englishman from Bombay. They’re joined, ultimately, by Invisible Boy, an adolescent who’s chronically ignored by his parents; The Bowler, a disturbed young woman who keeps her dead father’s skull embedded in a lucite bowling ball; and The Spleen. All by himself, the Spleen was enough to sour me on this flick. The Spleen, you see, derives his powers from intestinal gas. Now, that in itself isn’t so bad. But The Spleen is played by a pimply-faced Paul Reubens (aka Pee Wee Herman) in a bad wig, made up to look like nothing so much as a hyper-flatulent Jimmy Page, circa 1975. Now, that’s scary. Sullydog found this image deeply disturbing.

Anyway, these geeky super-nerds assemble to rescue their hero and major competitor, Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear), from the clutches of Champion City’s arch-villain, Cassanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush). Sounds silly, I know, but the potential was there to make it work. Captain Amazing is a mediavore, a self-absorbed phony with a manicure who wears so many endorsement patches on his costume he looks like a hockey rink at the Stanley Cup playoffs. In an act of self-aggrandizing duplicity, Captain Amazing actually helps his arch-nemesis Cassanova Frankenstein get released from Champion City’s maximum security freak farm, just so he’ll have some crime to fight in front of the cameras. Captain Amazing’s plan goes awry. Next thing you know he’s trapped in the dungeon , tied up with a super-duper mind altering beam pointed right at his forehead. Cassanova Frankenstein and his cronies are throwbacks to the 70’s, determined to see to it that the power of Disco crushes the forces of Justice forever. Bee Gees will rise again, man. Champion City is a sort of polyglot Gotham a la Blade Runner, Wonderbread and sushi side-by-side. So the stage is set for some truly whack social satire, some deeply funny weirdness.

Alas, the makers of MM have decided to go for formulaic idiocy and fart jokes instead. Ben Stiller is one of the funniest people alive, Macy is a first rate character actor, and Geoffrey Rush actually manages to transcend the inherent campiness of his role and exude the same sort of power and menace that made him so effective in Elizabeth. But their talents are wasted here, and the appearance of Tom Waits and Wes Studi will make you shake your head with numb regret. The single best thing the producers could have done with this flick, aside from not making it at all, would have been to turn over the script and direction to Stiller, who knows how to be funny and incisive at the same time (Cable Guy). I’d like to think Stiller could have fashioned MM into a madcap assault on middle America, media and celebrity, rather than an infantile romp through through a landscape of tired plot devices, mediocre special effects and puerile humor. What a waste.

Buckaroo Bonzai meets South Park.

Sullydog does not approve.

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