In the newly released The Watch, Ben Stiller assembles a team to patrol the streets and make their neighborhood safe. With the movie’s interweb buzz being none too positive, I can’t help but wonder if Stiller should have taken some queues from his 90s playbook. His rage-filled Mr. Furious would have accepted nothing less than a moderately entertaining affair from his colleagues.
Thanks to the courageous and effective efforts of Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear), Champion City is practically crime free. Good news for the citizens, but not so good for the fledgling superhero trio of Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), Shoveler (William H. Macy), and the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria). It’s also bad for the Captain who decides to increase his public image and lucrative endorsements by using alter ego, lawyer Lance Hunt, to convince the parole board to release the deranged supervillain, Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush). When the Captain’s plan backfires, only Mr. Furious knows he’s a prisoner of Frankenstein, and it’s up to him and his friends to save Captain Amazing and Champion City from the madman’s clutches.
Mystery Men, the first and only feature directed by Kinka Usher, is an odd little film. It suffers from too many close ups, tons of hit-or-miss jokes, and features what I now consider one of the most embarrassing songs of the 90s, Smash Mouth’s All Star. A simplistic plot ties together a slew of unconventional characters.
This cooky assemblage of superhero and supervillain concepts, actors, comedians and musicians are all shoved through a blender rendering a silly, cartoonish romp. How else would you explain a movie whose villain wears crushed velvet, drives around in a stretch Corvette limo, and employs a gang of 70s rejects called the Disco Boys? On the flipside, it’s never clear what Captain Amazing’s powers are except that he can continue being well-loved despite being a dick. Kudos to Kinnear for nailing that facade.
Stiller’s frustrating and frustrated Mr. Furious spends most of his time trying to be angry, making him more of a super douche than a superhero. Shoveler, the blue collar backbone of the group, is my favorite character thanks to Macy’s earnest portrayal. That said, the Spleen (Paul Reubens) is the most bizarre and hilarious of the group, although Hank Azaria’s voice and fork-throwing talents also keep me laughing. Seeing Janeane Garafalo as The Bowler had me crushing for her big brown eyes and cynical, liberal humor like it was the 90s again.
The Bowler’s nemesis, lead Disco Boy Tony P, is portrayed by Eddie Izzard; one of my favorite comedians who really needed a bigger role to chew on. Geoffrey Rush, always a delight, revels in the wild-eyed insanity of Frankenstein. I especially love how he fights with his long, golden pinky nail. Seriously, who fights with a pinky nail?! Wes Studi delivers perplexing nonsense with thoughtful seriousness as the terribly mysterious Sphinx. Tom Waits appears as the strange Doc Heller, non-lethal weapons creator and renter of chickens. Hell, even Michael Bay and the Goodie Mob make cameos among Casanova Frankenstein’s hordes of villainous cohorts.
The plot of Mystery Men has more holes than Swiss cheese and the choreographed punches and kicks rarely hit their designated marks which, in theory, should make this one pathetic affair. Instead, Mystery Men endears itself to audiences by assembling a variety of talented celebrities on screen to have them compete to out-ham one another. It’s quirk for the sake of quirk, and in rare instances such as this, that’s enough to entertain.