“‘Men’ Potential a Mystery”
by Scott Mantz

“Mystery Men”
Ben Stiller, William H. Macy,
Janeane Garofalo, Geoffrey Rush
Directed by Kinka Usher

When I was growing up in Philadelphia, I used to spend my entire allowance collecting comic books. While I liked “Superman” and “Batman”, “The Amazing Spider-Man” was always my favorite. I’d imagine how these superheroes would save the day in times of need, but what if they weren’t around? What if we had to turn to those other guys–the losers who never quite made it? These second-rate misfits finally get their big break in the humorous, but so-so, “Mystery Men”. Director Kinka Usher has some fun sending up the superhero image, but “Men” never quite reaches its potential and loses steam in the last half of the movie.

Champion City, a city so dark it makes Gotham City look like Bedford Falls, is in the protective hands of superhero extraordinaire Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear). This raving egotist cares more about his corporate sponsors than the people he’s supposed to protect, but he meets his match against his chief nemesis, Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush). Now, the fate of the city lies in the hands of a group of superhero wannabes, consisting of Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), the Shoveler (William H. Macy), the Bowler (Janeane Garofalo), the Spleen (Paul Reubens), and the Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell).

The real fun in “Mystery Men” is when it spoofs the genre. With a costume covered from head to toe with sponsorship logos, Captain Amazing looks more like a NASCAR driver than a superhero. The Men seek help from a weapons expert (Tom Waits), where they’re treated to a display of gadgets that would make James Bond cringe. Finally, when they’re getting ready to take on Casanova, the scene is an obvious dig to the campiness of Joel Schumacher’s “Batman and Robin”.

Ben Stiller looks like a ticking time bomb anyway, so he’s perfect as Mr. Furious. Also, when it comes to the naive “aw, shucks” persona, you can’t get better than William H. Macy. Hank Azaria is hilarious with his faux British accent, and Janeane Garolalo has that smart-ass sarcasm down to a science. The only waste here is with Geoffrey Rush as arch-villain Casanova Frankenstein. With little screen time, he seems to walk through his role just to get his paycheck.

Director Usher should have spent a little more time in the editing room. At about 20 minutes too long, some of the more amusing scenes tend to drag on and lose their bite. Also, the film starts out with some clever gimmicks, but the finale disintegrates into just another “we failed the first time, but we’ll be back” scenario.

Furthermore, if the focus had stayed on a few people, it would have made for a stronger film. One of the problems with the “Batman” movies was that there were too many characters. As the franchise expanded, so did the character base to the point where it wasn’t even about Batman anymore. The same thing happens here. There are too many characters, and you never get a chance to feel for any of them.

In the end, this is just the type of summer flick to fit the bill for good, clean fun. As for whether or not the film will be successful enough to spawn a sequel, it’s a mystery to me.