Mystery Men Mystery Men

Verdict: It's a spoof! It's an adventure! No, it's an amiable mess.

Details: Starring Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, Geoffrey Rush, Hank Azaria and Janeane Garofalo. Rated PG-13 for comic action violence and crude humor. 2 hours, 1 minute.

Rate it: Write your own review

Review: The mystery about "Mystery Men" is why so many sharp actors signed on for a movie that needed several more rewrites. It's now a familiar Hollywood spectacle. After all, this is the summer of "Wild Wild West" and "The Haunting."

Unlike those two other juggernauts, "Men" at least provides some giggles. It's unpretentious and goofy. Like "South Park," it never underestimates the crowd-pleasing power of potty humor. And the presence of the masterfully deadpan Janeane Garofalo elevates any party.

As the Bowler, she shows up halfway through "Men," just in time to give the movie a sardonic jolt. She joins the titular gang of superhero wannabes, including:

The Shoveler (William H. Macy), whose weapon of choice is ... guess.

The Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), a mama's boy with a turban, a fake British accent and unpredictable skills as a fork thrower.

The Furious (Ben Stiller), a hothead with a volcanic temper but zero fighting skills.

Their goal is to win some of the crime-fighting glory enjoyed by Champion City's Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear, in fine sneering mode). Amazing's actions have nothing to do with civic duty and everything to do with lucrative product endorsements. Hoping to boost his earnings with more save-the-world stunts, he seeks a worthy adversary, springing master criminal Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) from prison. When his plan backfires, the city's safety rests with the Mystery Men. Their number swells to include:

Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell), whose power works only when no one is looking at him.

The Spleen (Paul Reubens), who can trigger his stinky talents with a pull of the finger.

The Sphinx (Wes Studi), a shaman whose pseudo-mystical sayings sound like something Grasshopper would have laughed at in "Kung-Fu."

Unfortunately, "Mystery Men" doesn't seem to know when it's mocking other superhero flicks and when it's mocking itself. It's a comedy in search of a real target and consistent rules. (The movie's mixture of slapstick realism and arbitrary supernatural powers never gels.) Kinka Usher, a commercial directing whiz making his feature film debut, kicks off "Men" with a clumsy opening scene and never finds a shape for the movie (or for many scenes).

"Mystery Men" is like its hapless heroes. It's a wannabe that has the best intentions — including a pronounced anti-gun stance — but none of the knack it takes to save the day, or itself. And its running time of more than two hours is the least funny thing about it. Like the Furious, it's all buildup, followed by fizzle.

Steve Murray, Cox News Service

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