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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Mystery Men

It's Thursday, so that means it's time to go Fishing in the Discount Bin!  I watch a movie, I blog about it, you know the deal.  Today, we do the 1999 superhero epic Mystery Men.  Actually, I did it back on August 6, 2017, and I'm just copying-and-pasting it into the blog now.

Sunrise Records is now in open in West Edmonton Mall, so I decided to check it out.  And as I perused their 2 for $20 bin, I managed to snag two forgotten superhero movies from the late-1990s, Mystery Men and Spawn.

The late 1990s was really weird for the superhero movie.  It was declared dead with Batman & Robin in 1997, and came back in a big way with the first X-Men in 2000.  So the ones that came in between were kind of forgotten.  Some are great (Blade), some are not (Spawn), and some are good but not great (Mystery Men). 

I'm starting to see a certain amount of nostalgia popping up online for Mystery Men, as it's starting to get mentioned in a lot of the film blogs I read.  The puzzle seems to be whatever happened to its director, Kinka Usher?  Usher came up through the same school of commercials and music videos that birthed Michael Bay, and with this film, seemed poised to be the next Michael Bay.  In fact, he gives his ol' buddy Bay a cameo.  But, this was the only film that Usher ever made.  After this, he went back to commercials and music videos, and stays there to this very day. 

Well, for that answer, Hank Azaria (one of the stars) gave an interview a few years ago that pretty much explained it.  According to Azaria, Mystery Men was a difficult shoot, and Usher found it very frustrating.  Between the visual effects, dealing with egotistical comedians who want to make sure their jokes all make it into the film, and constant arguments with everybody over the tone of the film, Usher was just done.  According to Azaria, about halfway through filming, Usher threw up his arms and said, "That's it.  I'm going back to commercials after this.  You don't have to put up with all this shit in a 60-second spot." 

And it's too bad, because the film does look freakin' amazing.  Usher has a visual flair that cannot be denied.  The entire film looks like a blend of Joel Schumacher's Batman films and Brazil.  Visually, it's just so good, you guys.

Anyway, onto the plot.  Mystery Men.  They come to us from the legendary underground comic Flaming Carrot Comics as a group of misfit superheroes.  They have highly obscure superpowers, or are just delusional to the point where they think they have superpowers.  The film opens with an incredibly bizarre function going on at an incredibly bizarre nursing home, when it's raided by criminal gang called the Red Eyes.  And our first three Mystery Men bust it up:

Mr. Furious, played by Ben Stiller.  He gets superstrength when he's consumed with rage, but the joke is, it's Ben Stiller, so he's never "consumed with rage" as much as he's just "mildly annoyed." 

The Shoveler, played by William H. Macy.  He beats people with a shovel.  That's about it.  But he does it with all the squared-jaw determination of your standard superhero that it's just amazing. 

And the Blue Raja, played by Azaria.  He throws cutlery.  Except for knives, because any common thug can throw knives. 

They're getting their asses handed to them by the Red Eyes when Champion City's chief protector, Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear), flies in and saves the day.  Captain Amazing is also facing a bit of a crisis.  Thanks to his efforts, the crime rate is virtually zero.  Since there's no crime to fight, his sponsors are pulling out and the endorsement deals are drying up.  Yeah, Captain Amazing has sold out big time.  I like that they modeled his superhero film after a NASCAR racing suit, and it's covered with sponsorship patches.  It's a clever choice.  Anyway, Amazing figures he needs a supervillain to fight again, to raise his stock, so in his secret identity of billionaire philanthropist Lance Hunt, he springs  his hold arch-enemy Casanova Frankenstein from the Asylum for the Criminally Insane. 

Thing is, having spent 20 years in prison to plot his vengeance, Casanova Frankenstein is ready, and promptly captures Captain Amazing in their first battle.  And it's now up to our three to rescue Captain Amazing. 

But they're going to need some help. 

First, the Shoveler tells us that "he knows a guy," which leads us to the Invisible Boy, played by Kel Mitchel, fresh of the 1990s institution Keanan and Kel.  His power is he can turn invisible...but only when no one is looking at him.  Again, a great line when our three show up to recruit him.  "Hey  Dad, I'm going to my room with three strange men I just met."  Dad doesn't move. 

Next, they're joined by the Spleen, played by Paul Reubens.  His power:  explosive flatulence.  Yeah, a walking fart joke.  Moving on.

They then move on to some open auditions...a scene you may remember if you've ever seen the music video for All-Star by Smash Mouth.  Yup, forget Shrek, this was the movie that first used All-Star, and a lot of the audition scene was recycled into music video.  In case you ever wondered why Ben Stiller and William H. Macy are in the video for All-Star

Out of that, they get the Bowler, played by Jeannine Garafolo, because it's a Ben Stiller movie in the 1990s.  Her power?  She throws a bowling ball at people.  But it's actually pretty cool, because she can make it bounce and ricochet like Captain America's shield.  Turns out, though, she's a legacy hero, as her father was Carmine the Bowler, a legendary hero who was killed by one of Frankenstein's henchman.  And to make sure her father is avenged, she had her father's skull preserved inside her bowling ball.  Leading to one of my favourite lines.

Mr. Furious:  So...you preserved your father's head inside the bowling ball?
Bowler:  No.  I had the guy at the pro shop do it. 

And she frequently has conversations with father through the bowling ball, leading to another of my favourite lines.  After she avenges her father's death, and her possessed bowling ball kills the henchman who killed her father, she turns to the ball and says, "Alright, that was the deal.  Now I'm going back to graduate school!"  When this came out in the summer of 1999, and I saw it in the theatre with a bunch of my buddies who had just finished college and were wondering what to do next, that got a big laugh from all of us. 

With their team complete, they go confront Casanova Frankenstein, with amounts to stopping his limo on the street and beating the crap out of said limo.  Frankenstein is more mildly annoyed than deterred, so he dispatches his goons to take out our heroes.  And at the last minute, our heroes are saved by the last member of their team...the Sphinx, who's power is he's just so darn mysterious, and he speaks only in fortune cookie wisdom bites. 

Under the Sphinx's tutelage, our heroes begin molding themselves into a lean, mean fighting machine.  They go into save Captain Amazing, which leads to one of the biggest gags in the film and the perfect third act twist.  While attempting to rescue Captain Amazing, Amazing gives them frustrating and confusing instructions as to how to release him...and they wind up triggering Frankenstein's doomsday machine, killing Amazing in the process. 

Our heroes retreat and regroup and eventually decide that they'll have to stop Frankenstein themselves.  After an inspirational speech from the Shoveler, they take a moment to go say good-bye to their loved ones.  Definitely, the best is when Mr. Furious goes to say good-bye to a waitress he's been sweet on.  The advice he gets from the waitress is the usual, "Stop pretending to be a brooding loner superhero, and just be yourself."  Again, this is hilarious, because rather than being inspirational advice to carry him through the rest of the film, it throws Furious into a existential crisis as he tries to figure out who he is...not something you need as your charging into battle. 

They head off into their final battle with Frankenstein, and all our heroes have a moment to shine.  Invisible Boy finally turns invisible to disable an automated security system.  When Frankenstein captures the waitress and threatens her, Mr. Furious' finally gets genuinely consumed with rage and his super-strength comes out.  And they save the city!

But Mystery Men is pretty cool.  It looks amazing, there's some genuine laughs, but there's a lot of weirdness for the sake of being weird.  It's still pretty good. 

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