Mystery Men [1999]

Ever wonder if there was a class system in the world of superheroes? After all the big names like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, etc., who were the supporting players? The folks assigned to the less-than-stellar gigs of saving only a small part of the world? According to this intermittently successful send-up of comic book heroism, there are indeed masked heroes who struggle and toil for their moment in the super sun. Based on the Dark Horse comic book series, Mystery Men follows the travails of three B-list avengers--Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), the Shoveler (William H. Macy), and the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria)--as they fight to make themselves known to the citizens of Champion City, quite difficult to do when the flashy Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear, never better) takes all the cool gigs and has product endorsements up the ying-yang. According to them, it's all a matter of timing--never mind that Mr. Furious never rises above a snit, or that the Blue Raja wears green. Their big break comes when Captain Amazing is abducted by the evil Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush), and it's up to this motley crew to save Champion City. Blessed with a wondrously gifted comic cast and full of droll details, Mystery Men struggles in fits and spurts towards its climax. Transcendently witty in parts, it's also woefully sophomoric in others. Literally, this is the kind of movie in which someone gets off a brilliant line and then sits on a fork. Still, when this movie is rolling, it's gleefully on target, thanks primarily to the mordantly cocky Stiller and Janeane Garofalo as a latecomer to the superhero gang; her secret weapon is a bowling ball in which her dead father's head is encased. The comic chemistry between these two is fierce, and when you add the dryly funny Macy and the endearing Azaria (who finally gets a chance to let loose with his comic gifts), it's a hilarious joyride. Too bad that the gas tank is only half-full; this stunning cast deserves a first-rate vehicle. With Tom Waits as a weapons expert, Claire Forlani as the requisite babe, and Paul Reubens as the Spleen, the world's most flatulent superhero. --Mark Englehart

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