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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

10 years of Flick Filosopher: the mystery of ‘Mystery Men’

I can’t believe more geeks don’t love Mystery Men the way I do:

Making Mystery Men really fly, though, is a cast of actors Who Can Do No Wrong. Absolutely everybody onscreen is having a ball. You can practically feel the glee with which Kinnear sports his Clark Kent glasses to (not at all) disguise the fact that his billionaire Lance Hunt is also Captain Amazing, and with which Rush wields his bizarre accent as the over-the-top supervillain. Stiller and Garofalo are as effortlessly brilliant as always, their Mr. Furious and Bowler both equal mixtures of self-hatred and misanthropy, vulnerability and hidden strength. But Macy and Azaria deserve the biggest kudos for giving their Shoveler and Blue Raja surprisingly moving undercurrents of pathos amidst all the mania onscreen.

Though it’s sad to think there was a time when I could call Ben Stiller “effortlessly brilliant as always,” now that we’ve seen how willing he is to whore his smarts out in dumb movies.

review of Mystery Men, posted 08.09.99

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  • bats

    I never understood why MM was dismissed…do comic book geeks really not have a sense of humor, that anything to do with superheroes are so sacred? I dunno. This is really a little gem that has been overlooked — couldn’t agree with you more.

  • Harley

    I never understood why people didn’t like it, either. My brother and I always loved “Mystery Men”. It’s just a fun little movie and Macy rocks in it. Some people just aren’t willing to give something a chance.

  • Seconded (or fourthed, perhaps). This was a great movie, and it’s a shame that so few people seemed to appreciate it- at least as far as dollars go.

  • David C

    Are there people who actively dislike it, or is it just little-seen? My only real (though minor) knock against it is that it kinda becomes more of a standard action movie than a sendup of same in the last reel.

    But there’s so much great stuff in it! Including one of my all-time favorite lines, from the wonderful William H. Macy as the Shoveler:

    “We’ve got a blind date with Destiny – and it looks like she’s ordered the lobster.”

  • MaryAnn

    It is little-seen, but of those who’ve seen it, I hear more disparaging remarks than praise.

    And yes, the movie is filled with quotable lines. I like “I shovel well. I shovel very well.”

  • I think that the success of “The Incredibles” makes it evident that comic book geeks do have a sense of humor–and anyway, it wasn’t just comic book geeks who hated this movie. I watched a video of this flick with my middle brother–an action movie fan who doesn’t read comic books but who liked “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Spiderman” and “X-Men.” He hated this movie and I can’t really blame him because despite the talented cast, there isn’t really a whole lot to praise here.

    The plot is stupid, the dialogue–apart from a few lines, most of which have been already quoted–was not that memorable and the Stiller character actually becomes more unlikeable as the movie goes along. I knew I was going to hate this movie when I realized halfway through that I wasn’t rooting for the Stiller character to win, that in my mind he not only deserved to lose but to lose badly.

    I’m usually a sucker for “schmuckish underdogs with hearts of gold saves the day” stories but this seemed more like a “simple-minded jerks expect to be applauded for doing nothing all that important” story.

    But then I’m not a Gen Xer. So go figure.

  • MaryAnn

    Yes, Stiller’s character becomes less likable as the film goes along: that’s one of the jokes!

    And didn’t the Mystery Men save the day from Casanova Frankenstein in the end? Seems like they did a lot more than nothing…

  • Well, they also initially killed the very guy they were trying to rescue, so in my view, those two deeds cancelled each other out.

    But ymmv.

  • MaryAnn

    Yeah, and *that* was hilarious, too.

    Look, it’s all a joke. It’s a parody. It’s not a Merchant-Ivory film.

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