Mystery Men

USA 1999

Reviewed by Jonathan Romney

Synopsis

Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Champion City, USA. Irascible Roy and his friends Eddie and Jeffrey are aspiring superheroes, fighting crime under the guises of The Furious, The Shoveller and the fork-throwing Blue Raja. But their efforts are eclipsed by the sponsorship-conscious Captain Amazing.

Worried about his declining profile, Captain Amazing engineers the release from prison of mad criminal Casanova Frankenstein, only to be captured by him. The trio recruit equally inept sidekicks - the flatulent Spleen, the all-too visible Invisible Boy - and finally become a team with the addition of The Bowler, who carries her father's skull in a bowling ball. They also find a mentor, the enigma-spouting Sphinx. In a rescue attempt, Captain Amazing is accidentally killed by the team; but they eventually defeat Frankenstein with the aid of eccentric weapons expert Doctor Heller.

Review

Despite looking from the artwork and the casting to be a more appealing proposition than the usual run of comic-book spin-offs, Mystery Men proves a grotesquely wasted opportunity. No expense has been spared to provide a cast that evokes off-beat modishness, but what went wrong can pretty much be guessed from the CV of Kinka Usher, a commercials director making his feature debut here after doing the business for Miller Lite, Nissan and Nike.

Mystery Men crassly parodies superhero comics without acknowledging that the smartest comic strips have been tilting at their own absurd conventions at least since the renaissance of Marvel in the 60s (the Blue Raja's relationship with his mother looks like a poor shadow of Spiderman's early domestic tensions with his aged Aunt May). Like most recent superhero films, Mystery Men takes Tim Burton's Batman as a starting point, particularly in its dystopian urban setting Champion City. But the clumsy, often condescending parody is sanctioned by a comic-book company, Dark Horse Comics, one which ought to have known better given that it is already responsible for such overblown effects-laden movies as The Mask and Barb Wire.

Mystery Men, which spun off from the austerely bizarre Flaming Carrot comics, has a one-joke premise: its costumed heroes barely have basic competence, let alone superpowers, and believe that the only qualifications needed are the right rhetoric and a snappy costume.

In fact, the film finally endorses that view: the team only come into their own once they replace their makeshift look with diligently hand-sewn costumes in glittery fabrics (costume upgrades seem to have become a feature of the genre when Joel Schumacher inherited the Batman franchise, although there are no rubber nipples here).

A desperately hit-and-miss affair, Mystery Men depends largely on the personalities of its top-heavy cast. There are a few star turns: William H. Macy's home-loving regular Joe, Paul Reubens as a grotesque zit-faced pétomane, and Hank Azaria as an American momma's boy apeing the tones of a 30s English fop. And Wes Studi is largely responsible for buoying up the film's final third, intoning portentous one-liners: "You must be like the wolf pack, not like the six-pack."

But there's a frightening waste of talent too, making you wonder just how much of whose screen time was cut: Tom Waits, Eddie Izzard (who should have known to avoid henchman roles after The Avengers), as well as a briefly glimpsed Lena Olin. The greatest shame is that Janeane Garofalo, memorably abrasive on The Larry Sanders Show, still hasn't found a big-screen venture that knows what to do with her.

A lazy script works on the one-note premise that superheroes are just deluded schmucks with too much nervous energy. But the writers finally play it safe by calling on unearthly powers to wrap things up. Usher, seduced by what looks like a gargantuan design budget, directs like someone who either doesn't love comics at all or loves the wrong sort too much. Mystery Men is a horrible mess with little to recommend it, except for nice touches in DP Stephen H. Burum's and designer Kirk M. Petruccelli's colour palette. Unfortunately, a few strident reds and purples don't make a movie.

Credits

Director
Kinka Usher
Producers
Lawrence Gordon
Mike Richardson
Lloyd Levin
Screenplay
Neil Cuthbert
Based on the Dark Horse comic book series created by Bob Burden
Director of Photography
Stephen H. Burum
Editor
Conrad Buff
Production Designer
Kirk M. Petruccelli
Music
Stephen Warbeck
©Universal City Studios, Inc.
Production Companies
Universal Pictures and Lawrence Gordon present a Golar/Lloyd Levin/Dark Horse production
Executive Producer
Robert Engelman
Co-producer
Steven Gilder
Production Co-ordinator
Justine M. Hebron
Unit Production Manager
David Householter
Location Manager
Marc Strachan
Co-location Manager
Craig Van Gundy
Post-production
Supervisor:
Angel Pine
Co-ordinator:
Terra Abroms
Assistant Directors
Jeffrey Wetzel
Jeff Okabayashi
Bradley Morris
Script Supervisor
Karen Golden
Casting
Mindy Marin
ADR Voice:
Barbara Harris
Camera Operator
Dustin Blauvelt
Steadicam Operator
Mark Van Loon
Visual Effects Supervisor
Lori J. Nelson
Visual Effects Editor
Carole A. Kenneally
Visual Effects Production Supervisor
David B. Moulder
Visual Effects Technical Co-ordinator
Allen Maris
Visual Effects
POP Film & Animation
Visual Effects Supervisor:
David Sosalla
Executive Producer:
Joe Gareri
Digital Effects Producer:
Melissa Brockman
CG/Matte Painting Producer:
Cheryl Bainum
Visual Effects Designer:
Deak Ferrand
Senior Matte Painters:
Deak Ferrand
Rocco Gioffre
Senior CG Animators:
Hans Payer
Martin Lauzon
Robin Tremblay
CG Animators:
Sandra Germain
Marc-Andre Samson
Robert Hubbard
Casey Dame
Pierre Catford
Olivier Goulet
Linda Kurgpold
Senior Inferno Compositors:
Bob Wiatr
Jacques Lévesque
Senior Cineon Compositors:
Ken Littleton
Lawrence Littleton
Digital Compositors:
Michael Degtjarewsky
Brandon McNaughton
Kiki Chansamone
Brian Hanable
Kevin Bouchez
Dave Nethercut
Roto/Paint Artists:
Kelly Bumbarger
Ken Lam
Tom Lamb
3D Tracking:
Kelly Bechtle-Woods
Digital Co-ordinator:
Thomas Clary
CG Co-ordinator:
Siouxsie Stewart
Digital Imaging Manager:
Pat Repola
Digital Imaging Co-ordinators:
Jean Usi
Beth Ostermann
Visual Effects Editor:
Tommy Dorsett
Scanning/Recording Technicians:
Mark Buschbacher
Brian Cuscino
Mary Nelson
Ed Thompson
I/O Technicians:
Marco Vidaurre
Adrian Colbert
Visual Effects
Rhythm & Hues Studios
Visual Effects Supervisor:
Tom Leeser
Original Effects Concept Design:
Nick Pugh
Visual Effects Producers:
Michele C. Vallillo
Jil Bergin
Digital Producer:
Diane Fazio
CG Supervisor:
Christopher Sjoholm
CG Sequence Supervisors:
Todd Shifflett
Hideki Okano
Robert Lurye
Michael Conelly
Erik de Boer
Raymond Chen
Mary Lynn Machado
Digital Artists:
Pascal Chappuis
Lisa Clarity
Antoine Durr
Daev Finn
Caleb Howard
Nicolas Imhof
Vandana Konda
Liz Kupinski
Karl Maples
Bob Mercier
Ha Ngan Roda
Thuc Nguyen
Alberto Noti
Amy Ryan
Juan-Luis Sanchez
Mike Sandrik
Andy Sheng
Juck Somsaman
Scott Townsend
Sandra Voelker
Carlo Volpati
Julius Yang
Animators:
Keith Roberts
Roberto Smith
Animation Setup:
Quintin King
Hans Rijpkema
Texture Painter:
Ruth Caspary
Software Developers:
Sherie Bradfute
Jubin Dave
Keith Goldfarb
Linda Martino
Ivan Neulander
Marty Ryan
Modellers:
Keith Hunter
Tom Capizzi
Yeen-Shi Chen
Karl Herbst
Ian Hulbert
Tex Kadonaga
Nancy Klimley
Maxx Okazaki
Bradley Sick
Chien-Hsiung Wang
Tracking:
Amy Christensen
Viviana Palacios
Lead Digital Compositor:
Mark Felt
Digital Compositor:
John Heller
Paint/Roto Artists:
Chris Bergman
Jeffrey Castel De Oro
Anita Cukurs
Marcus Rubone
Serkan Zelzele
Visual Effects Editors:
Allen Cappuccilli
Joshua Margolies
Engineer:
Will McCown
Scanning/Recording Supervisor:
Megan Bryant
Scanning/Recording Operators:
Erik Akutagawa
Jeffrey Cilley
Production Co-ordinator:
Joanne Shinohara
Visual Effects
Vision Art
Digital Effects Supervisor:
Marc Kolbe
Digital Effects Producer:
Richard J. Cook
Animation Supervisors:
Daniel Kramer
Carl Hooper
Animators:
Jim McLean
Daniel Naulin
Compositing Supervisor:
Dorene Haver
Compositor:
Alette Vernon
Digital Film Supervisor:
Celine Jackson
Digital Film Operator:
Paul Simon
Miniatures/Miniature Photography Support
Grant McCune Design Inc.
Model Supervisor:
Montgomery Shook
Model Art:
Clark Schaffer
Model Makers:
Tom Rush
Edward Lawton
Ray Moore
Jack Edjourian
Marcello Petrocelli
Dwight Shook
Jameson Levin
Alex Palumbo
Mark Sheaffer
Richard King Slifka
Rick Won
Jason Kaufman
Special Effects
Co-ordinator:
Terry Frazee
Assistant Co-ordinator:
Donald Frazee
Foremen:
Geno Crum
Ronald Myers
O'Connor FX
Supervisors:
Ian O'Connor
Sherry O'Connor
Crew:
M. Kam Cooney
Doug Shemer
Rich Jacobs
Model Maker Supervisor
David Cohen
Miniature Effects Unit Director of Photography
Alex Funke
Motion Control Supervisor
Christopher Dawson
Art Director
Barry Chusid
Set Designers
James Bayliss
Nathan Crowley
Mary Finn
Chad Frey
Liz Lapp
Richard Mays
Marco Rubeo
Domenic Silvestri
Paul Sonski
Sally Thornton
Set Decorator
Victor Zolfo
Textile Artist
Phyllis Thurber-Moffitt
Illustrators
James Doh
James Clyne
Storyboard Artist
Marc Messenger
Sculptor Foreman
Jamie Miller
Costume Designer
Marilyn Vance
Costume Supervisor
Nick Scarano
Wardrobe Illustrator
Lois Dearmond
Make-up
Department Head:
Scott Eddo
Artist:
Ken Wensevic
Prosthetic Make-up Artist
Michael Mills
Hair
Department Head:
Larry Waggoner
Stylists:
K.G. Ramsey
Violet Ortiz
Title Design
Robert Dawson
Additional Title Backgrounds
Illusion Arts
Syd Dutton
Bill Taylor
Matte Artists:
Kelvin McIlwain
Kenneth Nakada
Producer:
Catherine Sudolcan
Additional Compositing
Netter Digital Entertainment
Visual Effects Supervisor:
Laurel Klick
Compositor:
Beverly Bernacki
Digital Main Titles
Digiscope
Digital Artists:
Brennan Prevatt
Grady Cofer
Tim Clark
End Titles/Opticals
Custom Film Effects
Additional Music
Shirley Walker
Musicians
Taragato:
Martin Robertson
Bouzouki:
John Parricelli
Conductor
Pete Anthony
Orchestrations
Geoff Alexander
Art Kempel
Patrick Russ
Stephen Warbeck
Andrew Green
Music Supervisors
Karyn Rachtman
Associate:
Carol Dunn
Bobby Lavelle
Supervising Music Editor
Alex Gibson
Music Editor
Dan Garde
Music Scoring Mixer
Dennis Sands
Soundtrack
"The Mystery Men Mantra" by/performed by Mark Mothersbaugh, with additional vocals by Terry Bradford, Wil Wheaton, Nancye Ferguson; "Disco Inferno" by Leroy Green, Ron 'Have Money' Kersey, performed by The Trammps; "Boogie Oogie Oogie" by Janice Marie Johnson, Perry Kibble, performed by A Taste of Honey; "Calling Dr. Woodpecker" by Clarence Wheeler; "Ring My Bell" by Frederick Knight, performed by Anita Ward; "Night Fever" by Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb, Maurice Gibb, performed by Bee Gees; "Schneider Polka" by Henry Paul Elsnic, performed by Myron Floren; "Back in 1999" by/performed by John Oszajca; "Le Freak" by Nile Rodgers, Bernard Edwards, performed by Chic; "Play That Funky Music (White Boy)" by Robert W. Parissi, performed by Wild Cherry; "No Way" by Norman Cook, Ashley Slater, Dewey Bullock, Latanza Waters, Victor Mitchell, Kevin Nance, August Darnell, performed by Freak Power; "Keep, Keep Movin'" by Jason O'Bryan, Barry Ashworth, T.K. Lawrence, Willie J. Woods, Autry Dewalt, Harvey Fuqua, performed by Dub Pistols; "No More Heroes" by Jet Black, Jean Burnel, Hugh Cornwell, Dave Greenfield, performed by Violent Femmes; "Rainy Day Parade" by Jill Sobule, Robin Eaton, performed by Jill Sobule; "The Roof Is on Fire" by Gregory Wigfall, Jerry Bloodrock, Celite Evans, Richard Lee Fowler, Charles Pettiford; "Leonard's Lounge", "Won't You Come Down" by Joshua 'Spy' Ralph, performed by Spy; "That's the Way (I Like It)" by Harry W. Casey, Richard Finch, performed by KC & the Sunshine Band; "All Star" by Greg Camp, performed by Smash Mouth; "Hello Dolly" by Jerry Herman, performed by Petula Clark; "Gangsters" by Lynval Golding, Jeremy Dammers, Neville Staples, Terence Hall, John Bradbury, Rod Byers, Stephen Panter, performed by Citizen King; "O mio babbino caro" by Giacomo Puccini, Giovacchino Forzano, soprano: Miriam Gauci and the BRT Philharmonic Orchestra (Brussels); "Indigo" by Mark Brydon, Roisin Murphy, performed by Moloko; "A Fifth of Beethoven" by Walter Murphy, performed by Transmutator; "Who Are Those Mystery Men" by Kel Mitchell, Kenny Blank, Wade J. Robson, performed by Kel and the M.A.F.T. Emcees, Romaine Jones; "Sometimes" by Michael Franti, performed by Michael Franti & Spearhead; "Planet Claire" by Kate Pierson, Frederick W. Schneider, J. Keith Strickland, Cindy Wilson, Ricky Wilson, Henry Mancini, performed by The B-52s
Choreography
Anita Mann
Sound Design/Sound Supervisor
Stephen Hunter Flick
Production Sound Mixer
Douglas B. Arnold
Re-recording Mixers
Rick Kline
Chris Carpenter
Additional:
Bill Benton
Dubbing Recordists
Tim Webb
Bill Meadows
Supervising Sound Editor
Fred Judkins
Dialogue Editors
Alex Gonzales
Jeff Kushner
Jeff Kaplan
Effects Editors
Charles Maynes
William Jacobs
Peter Brown
ADR
Supervisor:
Victoria Rose Sampson
Recordist:
Diana Flores
Mixer:
Alan Holly
Editors:
Mary Ruth Smith
Linda Folk
Foley
Artists:
Dean Minnerly
Edward Steidele
Mixer:
Albert Romero
Editor:
Dana Gustafson
Stunt Co-ordinator
Mickey Gilbert
Animal Trainer
Steve Martin's Working Wildlife
Cast
Hank Azaria
Jeffrey, 'The Blue Raja'
Claire Forlani
Monica
Janeane Garofalo
Caroline, 'The Bowler'
Greg Kinnear
Captain Amazing/ Lance Hutton
William H. Macy
Eddie 'The Shoveller'
Kel Mitchell
James, 'Invisible Boy'
Lena Olin
Dr Annabel Leek
Paul Reubens
The Spleen
Geoffrey Rush
Casanova Frankenstein
Ben Stiller
Roy, 'The Furious'
Wes Studi
The Sphinx
Tom Waits
Doctor Heller
Eddie Izzard
Tony P
Prakazrel Michel
Tony C
Ernie Lee Banks
Ted
Gerry Becker
Banyon
Ned Bellamy
Funk
Corbin Bleu
Butch
Philip Bolden
Roland
Jake Cross
Thugs
Ricky Jay
Vic Weems
Louise Lasser
Violet
Emmy Laybourne
reporter
Jenifer Lewis
Lucille
Mason Lucero
young kid
Monet Mazur
Becky Beaner
Joel Mccrary
Funk
Chris Mugglebee
reporter
Olivia Lauren Todd
Tracy
Frederick Usher
thug
Kinka Usher
Moe
Gayle Vance
Sally
Adrian Armas
Gichi Gamba
Thomas Lake
Robert Musselman
Solo Scott
Erik Michael Tristan
disco boys
James Duke
Big Tobacco
Andreea Radutoiu
Ungela Brockman
Kimberly James
Angelica Bridges
furriers
Michael Bay
Riki Rachtman
Noah Blake
frat boys
Robert Barnett aka T-Mo
Willie Knighton Jr aka Khujo
Thomas Burton aka Cee-Lo
Cameron Gipp aka Gipp
rappers
Michael Chieffo
Gil Christner
Carl Strano
suits
John Brantley Cole
Robert Chow
Steven Jang
Sung Kang
susies
Jody Watley
Shane Johnson
Sunny Görg
Jennifer Lee Keyes
Sasha Bray
Marie Matiko
disco girls
Artie Lange
Big Red
Margaret Wheeler
old lady
Billy Beck
Robert Lieb
old men
Sarah Kane
Florence Stone Fevergeon
old party-goers
Ed Denette
old veteran
Kiyoko Yamaguchi
Kiko Kiko
Nori T. Gehr
back-up singers
Mark Mothersbaugh
band leader
Nancye Ferguson
singer
Katie Adams
Shirley Bowden
Lu Gay
Helen Etting
Crystal Gaer White
Valerie Gitter
Mae Greenstein
C. Elane Innes
Irene Kamsler
Miriam R. Lawless
Teresa MacLean
Joanne McDermott
dancers
Stacey Travis
Joann Richter
powerwomen
Larkin Campbell
supervacman
Oliver Clark
reverse psychologist
Jack Plotnick
Mr Pups
Dane Cook
waffler
Robert Musselman
Ballerinaman
Vince Melocchi
Mailman
Doug Jones
Pencilhead
Vincent Bowman
Son of Pencilhead
Vylette Fagerholm
Little Miss Vengeance
Dana Gould
Squeegeeman
Branden Williams
Maintainer
Aaron Priest
The Artiste
Robert B. Martin Jr
Big Billy Hill Billy
Gabrielle Conferti
PMS Avenger
Jeff Z. Danziger
Radio Man
Wilbert Sampson
Kenneth W. Watts
pigs
Elliot Durant III
martial artist
Anthony Sebastian Marinelli
gorilla
Drinda E. Shaneyfelt
Evil Devil Woman
Felix Castro
Globalman
Michael Craig
Gardener
Ronald Lasky
Bullfighter
David Still
Stilt Man
Jonathan Khan
Fisherman
Jerry Farmer
Thirsteyman
Certificate
PG
Distributor
United International Pictures (UK) Ltd
10,840 feet
120 minutes 27 seconds
Dolby digital/Digital DTS sound/SDDS
Colour by
DeLuxe
Last Updated: 27 Jun 2007