Universal // 1999 // 122 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // January 22nd, 2000
They're not your average superheroes.
An antidote to ultra-serious superhero movies, Mystery Men is the perfect movie for those times when you want to relax your brain, laugh at comic absurdity and just revel in silliness.
There are days when you want serious drama, emotionally compelling characters, and deadly serious peril. If that fits your present mood, Mystery Men is not going to be the movie for you. This is real comic-book mind candy; it is a popcorn flick that takes nothing seriously except entertaining an audience with humor, both broad and subtle, delivered with a delightfully wry, dry twist.
Some of the special effects have a whiff of the cheese about them, some of the later stages of the script suffer from the left-over-from-an-old-draft-itis, and the story formula (group of misfits with an impossible task learns teamwork and dedication to accomplish their mission) is not terribly original, but the formula is executed with comedic zest. If you can enjoy silly, deadpan, sometimes goofy, over-the top, or lightly corny humor, then you should be smiling, snickering, and guffawing your way through Mystery Men.
The tale begins when a funky old-folks home party gets crashed by the Red Eye gang, led by Big Red (Artie Lange), who terrorize and plunder the seasoned citizens. In the middle of the chaos, our blue-collar superheroes pop up, including macho Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), whose power is boundless rage; the fey Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), who boasts great skill with flatware; and the rock-steady Shoveler (William H. Macy), who was born to wield a shovel. Their enthusiasm is greater than their skill, and only the timely appearance of Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear) saves the day.
All is not well with Captain Amazing, as his skill in fighting supervillains has left him without any enemies. No enemies means no splashy headlines and lost commercial endorsements, much to Captain Amazing's horror. He needs an enemy, and quick, so in short order he arranges for the parole of his most ardent foe, Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush), hoping that they will be able to milk the situation for mutual advantage. Casanova is sadly of a different mind, and has the effrontery to take Captain Amazing prisoner and plan to unleash a reign of terror upon the quiet citizenry of Champion City.
Our heroes know that Captain Amazing is in peril, but Casanova's henchmen Tony P. (Eddie Izzard) and his gang, the Disco Boys abort rescue attempt. Bruised and battered, our heroes know that they need help if they are to rescue their idol, Captain Amazing. A long and exhausting recruitment drive yields only the Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell), who is invisible only when no one is looking at him; the Spleen (Paul Reubens), with legendary flatulent powers; and the Bowler (Janeane Garofalo), who wields the independent-minded skull of her father encased in a bowling ball. It's not much, but it will have to do.
Their first official brush with Casanova is, well, not that impressive, but at least they escape unscathed. Celebrating their minor triumph, they are ambushed by Tony and the Disco Boys and saved from certain death by the timely intervention of the Sphinx (Wes Studi). Their savior is wise, mysterious, and a never-ending font of leadership clichés. The Sphinx takes it upon himself to train our heroes (and do a little seamstress work on snazzy new costumes) for their final showdown with Casanova Frankenstein. Once they hunt up a non-lethal weapons expert in the form of Doc Heller (Tom Waits) and pick up some ingenious toys, it's back to the Frankenstein castle, and a superhero vs. supervillain battle royale to the finish.
I am not normally a fan of Ben Stiller (Permanent Midnight, There's Something About Mary, director of The Cable Guy) or Paul Reubens ("Pee-Wee's Playhouse"), but it is to the credit of Mystery Men that I appreciated their work here. Stiller's brand of arrogance and irony works perfectly in his role as the ineffectively agitated Mr. Furious. Janeane Garofalo (The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, 200 Cigarettes, Cop Land) is as acid-tongued as ever, and William H. Macy (Pleasantville, Fargo, "E.R.") simply becomes the straight-arrow, square-jawed, suburban über-father. Greg Kinnear's (As Good As It Gets, You've Got Mail) smugly unaware stupidity works perfectly, and Geoffrey Rush (Shakespeare in Love, Elizabeth) brings a psychotic charm and gloriously odd accent to his part.
Not everyone comes off so well, unfortunately. Kel Mitchell seems lost amidst such acting, and comedic talent and Lena Olin (as Frankenstein's love interest) is wholly wasted. Claire Forlani (as Mr. Furious' love interest) seems to have perfected the art of method acting, but unfortunately chose Al Gore as her model.
Keep an eye out for cameos by big-budget director Michael Bay (Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, The Rock) as Frat Boy ("Dude, can we bring the brewskis?") and Jody Watley as Disco Girl. Even director Kinka Usher pops in with an uncredited cameo -- he is the guy behind the counter at the diner who takes a broad pratfall when The Spleen demonstrates his powers.
For a movie that wasn't exactly a box office bonanza, the extra content is quite outstanding. The usual featurette (called a "Spotlight on Location") is decently done. The soundtrack is given a plug with a music video by KEL and the M.A.F.T. Emcees ("Who Are Those Mystery Men"), a music highlights feature allows you to skip to the songs in the movie, and the production notes as well as the cast & filmmakers' bio/filmography sections are some of the best I have seen on a disc. Also included are "DVD-ROM" features that appear to be simply web-links. Also, for those of us who aren't into comic books, we are clued into the origin of the Mystery Men characters in a production notes-like item. Now let me get to the heart of the bonus content!
The feature-length commentary by director Kinka Usher (previously best known for his Taco Bell commercials) provides insight into both the genesis and execution of Mystery Men, but also some valuable information into his comedic sensibilities. I can honestly say that I am more likely to want to see his next movie (if it is a comedy, particularly) after listening to the commentary. A real gem is the collection of deleted scenes, which were understandably trimmed for time reasons. Happily, they are polished scenes (not the crude work-print scenes that are often seen in deleted scene collections) and as funny as the movie itself, so if you liked the movie, you will truly enjoy these scenes.
Finally, some smart suit over at Universal has finally realized how to use trailers properly. Hallelujah! Two present theatrical releases get a "Universal Showcase" for their (letterboxed and Dolby Digital 5.1) trailers (Man on the Moon and Snow Falling on Cedars), and a Film Recommendations section actually has the trailers (gasp!) for three of the selections (American Pie, Army of Darkness, and Darkman.) On the other hand, only the American Pie trailer is properly letterboxed. The Mystery Men trailer is thrown in for good measure (properly letterboxed and in Dolby Digital 5.1).
The video transfer is near perfect. I have watched Mystery Men at least half a dozen times so far, and aside from just a whiff of digital enhancement and some trivial softness, I can't find anything to criticize. Each character has their own color palette that is well used, and in general the gorgeous, colorful cinematography is presented with impressive clarity and impact. There are zero film defects, flecks of dirt, and the like, as befits a recent movie. It seems silly to say more, so just watch and enjoy!
The audio is a good 5.1 mix. It's not a rock-em sock-em action flick, so it won't be peeling paint off your walls, but you won't be disappointed. The front soundstage is wide and active, the surrounds well used for ambient fill and moving sound effects, and the LFE lends its support for music and explosions. The latter could do with more thump, but I can live with it.
The Alpha keep case. Yeccch!
A persistently annoying nitpick is the inclusion of extras that aren't time-coded. I like to know how long an item is, and if I want to skip to particular spots, it's much harder without a time reference. Is this such a hard thing to do, Universal?
I also had thought we were long past such annoyances as prohibiting on-the-fly audio track switching. Why I should have to be forced to turn the director's commentary on and off from a main menu is beyond me.
When you are in the mood for silly (but not gross or profane) comedy, Mystery Men is a worthy disc for the consideration of all audiences. Its humor is not for everyone, but if it is your flavor of fun, a purchase ($25) gives you excellent value for the money.
Aside from some minor fines for DVD fouls, Universal and its Mystery Men are released to continue their work to keep Champion City free of crime. DVD Verdict is the official DVD site of Champion City, didn't you know that?
Review content copyright © 2000 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Commentary Track
* Deleted Scenes
* Soundtrack Presentation
* Music Highlights
* Comic Book Character Origins
* Production Notes
* Talent Bios
* Theatrical Trailer
* Bonus Trailers
* DVD-ROM Content
* Universal Site
* The Mystery Men Project