The movie blog

Mystery Men

It Didn't Start With Kick-Ass: Mastering Mystery Men

“Am I to understand that you have inserted your father’s skull in that ball for bowling?”
“No. The guy at the pro shop did it.”

Life asks important questions: Dude, Where’s My Car, O Brother Where Art Thou?, And What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Then there is the puzzle of what happens Men of Mystery. You know, those superheroes who aren’t actually super?

That quandary is solved in Mystery Men, the comedy that goes beyond the call of X-Men, seeking the Holy Grail of Comic Absurdity, going right past the What-If of Reflected Reality and ending up as the Galaxy Quest of Heroes-In-Costume. Mystery Men is a film so underrated that Kick Ass 2 was basically its reboot. It may have been dissed by one of its stars who shall remain nameless (Ben Stiller) but smart film folks are regularly quote its script by Neil Cuthbert, taken from Bob Burden’s great comic creations. If you haven’t seen this lesser-known delight of the superhero world, *now’s the time*.

Not that Mystery Men is perfect, far from it. In fact, its director Kinka Usher never went back into feature filmmaking even though he continues to be an award-winning commercials director. It’s not that Mystery Men isn’t funny: it’s full of laughs, emotions and is lead by a strong female character who fights crime with a see-through bowling ball containing her beloved father’s skull . Yes, there is a lot to love here.

The story is set amongst the dysfunctional, arguing super-people of Champion City, hometown to professional crimefighter Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear). He’s s superhero with one small problem: he’s too good. So, what happens when corporate-sponsored, logo-festooned Captain Amazing defeats all of his enemies, including the ridiculously named Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush). He loses his job, that’s what. With no one to fight, Amazing finds he has to release Frankenstein from confinement just to have someone to chase. That’s not a good idea because, well, Geoffrey Rush is a serious guy.

Mystery Men’s central idea is that everyone wants to be a superhero, even if they don’t have super powers. So William H Macy is The Shoveller – a superhero who shovels. There are also Paul Reubens (from PeeWee’s Playhouse) as The Spleen who fights crime with farts, Hank Azaria (The Simpson’s) as The Blue Raja – a turbaned man who uses forks to fight crime and, of course, Mr Furious (Ben Stiller) who is desperate to impress.

Other famous faces include Tom Waits, Lena Olin, Eddie Izzard and Wes Studi but the best is Janeane Garofalo as The Bowler II. She’s superhero all women need – she’s not half-naked, stupid or weak. She’s got a strong mind and doesn’t watch her words: she’s a real person. Besides, her father Carmine was the original Bowler, a real superhero killed in mysterious circumstances:

The Bowler: “The police ruled my father’s death a suicide. They said he fell down an elevator shaft. Onto some bullets.”
The Blue Raja: “You know, I’ve always suspected a bit of foul play there.”

With great dialogue, surprising set pieces and a lot of humanity, Mystery Men will have you watching it on repeat. Where else can you find squabbling superheroes who fight for justice using only, uh, whatever’s at hand… forks, farts and bowling balls…

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