Mystery Men (1999)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #65

They’re not your average superheroes.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 120 minutes
BBFC: PG (uncut, 1999) | PG (cut on video, 2000)
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 6th August 1999
UK Release: 26th December 1999
First Seen: DVD, c.2000

Stars
Ben Stiller (There’s Something About Mary, Night at the Museum)
Hank Azaria (Grosse Pointe Blank, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian)
William H. Macy (Fargo, Magnolia)
Geoffrey Rush (Shine, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl)

Director
Kinka Usher

Screenwriter
Neil Cuthbert (Hocus Pocus, The Adventures of Pluto Nash)

Based on
The Mysterymen, a superhero team originally appearing in Flaming Carrot Comics, a comic book by Bob Burden.

The Story
When supervillain Casanova Frankenstein is released from prison, wannabe superhero Mr Furious overhears his plan to destroy reality. With the city’s genuine protector out of action, Mr Furious and his chums the Shoveler and the Blue Raja recruit a gang of other wannabes to defeat Frankenstein.

Our Heroes
They’re not your classic heroes, they’re the other guys: a ragtag gaggle of people with “powers”, like the Shoveler, who fights with a shovel, or Mr. Furious, who gets really angry, or the Blue Raja, who throws cutlery with great accuracy. These founding three are joined by Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell), the Spleen (Paul Reubens), and the Bowler (Janeane Garofalo), and recruit the mysterious Sphinx (Wes Studi) to train them.

Our Villain
Criminally insane genius Casanova Frankenstein. Released from prison so that genuine superhero Captain Amazing had someone to fight, Frankenstein manages to capture his nemesis and plots to unleash the reality-bending Psycho-frakulator on the world — with only our inept heroes to stand in his way.

Best Supporting Character
Captain Amazing! Played by Greg Kinnear, the resident superhero of Champion City is too darn good at his job. With no crime left to fight, his corporate sponsors are pulling their funding — unless he can use his alter ego, influential billionaire Lance Hunt, to get one of his adversaries released…

Memorable Quote
The Shoveler: “If we had a billionaire like Lance Hunt as our benefactor…”
Mr. Furious: “That’s because Lance Hunt is Captain Amazing!”
The Shoveler: “Oh, here we go… Don’t start that again. Lance Hunt wears glasses, Captain Amazing doesn’t wear glasses.”
Mr. Furious: “He takes them off when he transforms.”
The Shoveler: “That doesn’t make any sense, he wouldn’t be able to see!”

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“We are number one. All others are number two, or lower.” — The Sphinx

Memorable Scene
Mr Furious, the Blue Raja, and the Shoveler gather at the latter’s house (despite his wife’s protestations) to audition potential team members. Cue a stream of daft and/or outrageous ideas for superheroes, including the Reverse Psychologist, Squeegeeman, and PMS Avenger.

Making of
For some reason a rumour has persistently done the rounds that Mystery Men was actually directed by Tim Burton, and Kinka Usher was just an alias. Goodness knows why. Usher is in fact a commercials director, and went back to that world after his miserable experience here.

Awards
1 Saturn nomination (Costumes)
1 Teen Choice Awards nomination (Choice Hissy Fit — it lost to Hanging Up. If you have any idea what Hanging Up is, your memory’s better than mine.)

What the Critics Said
“This slapstick and effects vehicle depends on poker-faced performances, production design that enhances the story partly because it doesn’t have to compensate for it, and a premise that provides seemingly inexhaustible opportunities for pratfalls and clever lines. The characters have been designed to make fun of themselves, disguising the craft of writer Neil Cuthbert and director Kinka Usher in getting us to laugh at them.” — Lisa Alspector, Chicago Reader

Score: 60%

What the Public Say
“this movie is incredibly underrated because it parodies other Superhero movies unbelievably well, and no one had the chance to see that 15 years ago. […] It does what any good parody does, by taking the expected and turning it on its head. How do other Superhero groups form? The government decides it’s a good idea to have a Supergroup. Or they all meet in some intergalactic prison. Or they form to protect the world from the Legion of Doom. None of them hold a barbecue. None of them have a female team member who kicks ass, speaks her mind, angers everyone, and wears real clothing. The movie takes every expected and turns it on its ass […] I believe if it came out this summer, or even in the fall, it would have a much bigger and better reaction. People would watch it and instinctively compare it to the other Superhero super groups they’re familiar with. It would resonate better now, and fans would have a chance to really laugh at the ridiculousness of Superheroes.” — Maria Spiridigliozzi

Verdict

Was Mystery Men ahead of its time? Coming out in 1999, it was a year ahead of the superhero revival that X-Men kickstarted. Or maybe it was behind its time? Visually, it’s on a par with other ’90s superhero efforts like Batman Forever (and I don’t mean that derogatorily). Either way, it’s an undervalued comedy. The ensemble cast are all perfect — I didn’t even have room above to mention Tom Waits as mad inventor Dr A. Heller, Eddie Izzard as henchman Tony P., or Claire Forlani as the love interest. The material they have to deliver is both witty and suitably silly, and it incorporates superhero tropes and references without relying on them. In the sub-subgenre of superhero comedies, all others are number two, or lower.

#66 never happened… to the other fella.

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