Monday, January 16, 2012

Mystery Men: A Super Powered Cast of Misfit All-Stars (Or Why Wasn't This Movie More Awesome)

What is every young boys dream? Is it to be an Astronaut? A Fireman? A Rock Star, maybe? Or perhaps a famous Celebrity of somekind? 

The answer?

All of the above. But how does one become an Astronaut-Fireman-Rock-Star-Celebrity? Easy.

Become a Super Hero. 
Amateur Superheroes? Awww yeeeaah!
The year is 1999. It's summer. I am nine years old. And after seeing the trailer for this new, quirky superhero flick, I go to the theaters to see this little film. Little did I know what would occur after the viewing of this film. A tradition, still kept to this day, of my cousins and I camping out in their backyard while running an extension cord back up to the house in order to watch this film on VHS, and later, DVD on a mini 11" by 8" television. Ahh, sweet memories of youth. Is it too soon to start reminiscing? I think not.

At a time when superhero genre flicks were only just starting to get their feet wet in the movie industry, along comes a director of TV commercials and ad campaigns, Kinka Usher, with a superhero film boasting a cast of outcasts that sets it apart from all others at the time: Mystery Men.

From L to R: The Bowler, The Invisible Boy, The Sphinx, The Shoveler, The Spleen, Mr. Furious, and the Blue Raja

Looking back in time we see that hindsight is 20/20. But that still doesn't offer an explanation as to why a film like Mystery Men tanked so hard at the box office. Mystery Men was, to use modern day terms, sort've like The Avengers before Marvel even had Marvel Studios or any of it's Iron Man films in the works--just with no-name heroes. But who better to play no-name heroes than big-name movie stars? That's something that Mystery Men has in spades: star power.   

With William H. Macy, Hank Azaria, and Ben Stiller forming the triumvirate of superheroes known only by their monikers: the Shoveler, the Blue Raja, and Mr. Furious, respectively, the film was already off to a decent start as the men were then just making names for themselves, and are now considered to be some of the most distinguished members of the acting community. Hardcore. Add on to the fact that you have Geoffrey Freakin' Rush as your bad guy, Cassanova Frankenstein, (which I personally think is still one of the best super villain names of all time), and Greg Kinnear as his arch-nemeses, the super-douche Captain Amazing and you've got yourself the start of something good. Throw in notable comedians like Paul Reubens, Janeane Garofalo, and the then popular Kel Mitchell for humorous on-screen antics, Mr. Wes Studi for some nobility and leadership, a dash of Tom Waits for some good ol' fashioned home-grown crazy, a pinch of Eddie Izzard and some Pras from the Fugees as Disco gangsters, and you've got yourself a cornucopia of acting talent and prestige. And don't even get me started on the cameos. Yeah. I'm lookin' at you Dane Cook.

Still,  the film only earned a modest gross of $29,655,550 and had an (estimated) budget of $65,000,000. You don't have to be a Mathlete to recognize that the numbers just don't add up to not even to half of what the film was worth.  So why did Mystery Men fail to inspire mystery or intrigue of any kind in men, women, boys and girls? Well, to answer that, we're gonna have to go to the breakdown.

The Breakdown

  • Ridiculousness: This film isn't ridiculous. It's utterly preposterous. In both premise and design. Hell, even the execution of this film is ridiculous. A commercial director? Really? That was the best you could do, guys? But I will say this: my nine year old version of myself really was drawn to this film, regardless of how ridiculous it was. So, for all that nostalgia, I can't judge this film too harshly. 3/5 Stars
  • Classiness: Um, there's very little that's classy about this film. But, then again, it's not really supposed to be classy. You have some classy characters, to be sure, but they're all suave bad guys. This movie's about the underdog. The smelly, flea-bitten, tick-infested, ring-worm bearing underdog. The costumes at the end of the film, however, are truly epic and would make for an awesomely sweet group costume for Halloween nowadays. 2.5/5 Stars
  • Cheesiness: This is an absolute cheesefest. Too cheesy to please nowadays. Back when I was a kid with weight problems and a fond for hotdogs, I'd say, "Sure! The cheesier, the better!" But I know better now, and after watching Mystery Men again it becomes obvious that the film suffers from too I almost loathe to use that word, but it just seems like this film was too much fun and nonsense for everyone involved, and not enough focused Awesome. I mean, this film actually had a good shot at telling something meaningful with it's undercurrent theme of corporate sponsership. But what happens? The film flounders in the shallow recesses of fart jokes and poorly done slapstick. For shame, Mystery Men. For shame. 4/5 Stars
  • Hilariousness: This film has its moments. Most of the dialogue is improvised by the cast, and as I mentioned before, they're all pretty with it actors that come up with some witty dialogue. But if you're looking for serious chuckles, I'd look elsewhere. 2/5 Stars
  • Awesomeness: a Somewhat Awesome film. With an average rating of 2.875 StarsMystery Men tries to rise to its most Awesome calling of being a superhero, but just like the poor schmucks it happens to depict the film manages to do exactly what those losers are good at: falling flat on its face.
    And there you have it my wannabe super peeps. There's the downlow on the Men of Mystery. Now you know the truth behind their secret identity. What's your favorite Superhero flick? Be it 80's, 90's, or more recent. Post in the comments. I'd like to know. And I'll leave you with this.

- Duke

1 comment:

  1. I have to see this movie again. As an '80s movie fan, I love camp and kitsch. This '90s movie, I seem to remember, has it in abundance.

    I have a vague memory of a quote from the Janeane Garofalo character. The dialogue went something like this: The team has just received some cheesy faux-philosophical wisdom from The Sphinx to the effect that they should beat a hasty retreat. Someone then says,"But we can't just run." Garofalo, as the Bowler, nonchalantly points to the Sphinx and matter-of-factly says "Oh, but its just been established that we can."

    You had to have been there...