Chuck (charlesofcamden) wrote,

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Mystery Within Mystery

Allow me to be the last critic in North America to weigh in on the 1999 film Mystery Men. The DVD was loaned to me by a friend late in the Roosevelt administration (Teddy, not Franklin), and I finally got around to watching it.

So how was it? Well, quite frankly, it was far better than I expected. It wasn’t something I felt at all moved to take in when it was playing in theaters, but I am once again the beneficiary of my friends’ good taste.

The cast list was the first thing that jumped out at me. I mean, if you had just given me this list of names – Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, Hank Azaria, Janeane Garofalo, Geoffrey Rush, Greg Kinnear, Tom Waits, Lena Olin, Paul Reubens, Louise Lasser, and Eddie Izzard – I’d have wagered (and lost) a good deal of money that they’d never all appeared in the same movie.

As for the plot, I suppose it would fall under the genre of comic book superhero, except that you’d never confuse this with Spiderman or Iron Man; no how, no way, Jose. At the outset, there’s only one bona fide superhero on display – Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear) – and he’s only a supporting character. The film centers around a group of would-be superheroes, many of whom work at menial jobs and/or live with their parents. Their powers are mostly limited to such feats as throwing forks (Hank Azaria’s Blue Raja), and being highly dextrous with a shovel (William H. Macy’s Shoveller). The only one who initially claims any true superpower is The Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell). He explains to the group that he has the power to become invisible, but only when no one is looking at him; as soon as people look at him, he becomes visible. He is thus unable to demonstrate his power to the group, or to explain how it might be a useful ability. Well okay – The Spleen (Paul Reubens) possesses the power of remarkably deadly flatulence, able to knock people completely unconscious from across a room. While I have known a few people who actively aspired to such feats, The Spleen’s abilities should qualify as a superpower. It isn’t until The Bowler (Janeane Garofalo) shows up that we see someone with a superpower beyond dispute. She carries with her a bowling ball which visibly contains the skull of her late father. What she is able to do when she throws that ball gains her quick admission into the group.

The group ultimately finds an opportunity to prove itself by taking on a true super-villain with the unlikely name of Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush). True to its own genre, Casanova Frankenstein is evil and insane and is bent upon causing mass death and destruction through the use of a giant ray gun located in the heart of his castle. Will our heroes stop him in time? C’mon – is the Pope a Kraut? No, it’s the subplots that keep us hanging on – Will the Invisible Boy be able to turn invisible when they really need him to? Will the Shoveller’s wife follow through on her promise to leave him? Will Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller) stop being a jackass long enough to help the team and get the girl?

Yeah, Ben Stiller. I needed to get around to talking about him. When he’s got the right role and the right script, he’s a very good comic actor. This is the best vehicle I’ve seen for him to date. He nails it. There are several other standouts who deserve to be singled out – Hank Azaria, who never seems to give a bad performance, is spot-on as the Blue Rajah. How can I put it? – Azaria isn’t merely an actor; he’s an entertainer. Janeane Garofalo is another one I always enjoy on-screen. I have to admit that I’m no great fan of her as a standup comic. For my money, I wish she’d concentrate her energies on acting because I think she’s a natural. And William H. Macy is simply Mr. Reliable. I don’t suppose he’s ever going to shock anyone with his on-screen antics, but I don’t think he’s ever going to disappoint anyone either. Give me a dozen William H. Macys and I’ll take on any script you have to offer.

In summation, this is just a good old popcorn-chomping romp of a movie, well made all around. In fact – true story – I put the movie on hold ten minutes into it so I could go to the kitchen and make popcorn, because watching it was making me smell popcorn.

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