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Mystery Men


Mystery Men

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Toward its climax, Mystery Men features a scene in which William H. Macy, playing a struggling, shovel-wielding superhero, fights with disco-gear-clad ghetto supastar Pras. It's a scene that points to everything that's right and wrong with the movie. In theory, such moments ought to be hilarious, but in practice, they're something else entirely. A transplantation of characters originally appearing in Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot comics, Mystery Men revolves around the adventures of a group of second-string, questionably talented, hardworking costumed crime-fighters (led by Ben Stiller) who must take action when their city's bored, Superman-like protector (Greg Kinnear) falls victim to the crazed villain (Geoffrey Rush) he helped release from an asylum with an eye toward financial gain and good publicity. Janeane Garofalo plays a bowler with a magical ball, Hank Azaria a silverware-wielding avenger with a deep-seated aversion to hurting people that makes him avoid using knives, and so on. The characters are funny and the cast's characterizations right on, but the movie repeatedly lets them down, falling victim to what can only be called The Family Guy Syndrome: The ideas feel right, and the jokes seem almost funny, but there's no covering up that something is terribly wrong. Any movie that can't make memorable Tom Waits' part as an inventor of elaborate, non-lethal weapons is irreparably troubled. Mystery Men never really sinks below a certain point of watchability, however, thanks in large part to its cast and handsome (if not particularly appropriate) production design. But given the talent assembled and the film's possession of the closest thing to a can't-miss concept this side of Samuel L. Jackson as Shaft, Mystery Men is a tremendous disappointment.