Mystery Men

dir. kinka usher
st. ben stiller, william h. macy, hank azaria, janeane garofalo

1941. Leonard Part 6. Howard The Duck ... Mystery Men. Alright then, it ain't all that bad, but that same sense of humourless inflation present in those aforementioned turkeys lies at the heart of Mystery Men, the ghost of a good script and a faint sense of wit fighting against the twin evil geniuses of poor direction and confused performances. The film isn't bad in the typical sense, where cliches and tedium take over, where everything that stinks about the film can be cross-referenced to the five other pieces of crap that have come out in the last three weeks. Instead, the film is bad in a whole new, mistaken way, good ideas gone to rot and beginning to smell a bit odd. The film is grating in a way only this type of high-budget blow-out can be, because a movie like this symbolises nothing other than sheer waste, where once again money gets in the way of any type of simple entertainment. It's easy enough to dismiss a copy-cat indie effort, a low-budget romantic comedy or a cheesy horror film, but when Hollywood clicks into this type of crash and burn cycle, you can only sit back and groan.

The film resembles nothing other than a drunken idea vomited forth by a cadre of semi-underground denizens after leafing through one members comic collection. The cast certainly has semi-alternative appeal: Janeane Garofalo, Tom Waits, Paul Rubens (aka Pee-Wee Herman). Add to that the wonderful William H. Macy and Simpsons sponsored Hank Azaria (once again specialising in stupid but admittedly funny accents) and you've got a great cast. So why doesn't it work? Because these sort of people need space to work, and once they're caught up within the machine, they'll struggle feebly to survive. Waits might still have that wonderful gruffness about him and Garofalo might get off a wisecrack every now and then, but otherwise they're lost for something to do, tiredly spinning their wheels (quite literally, the film seems to think characters engaging in a case of "yes it is, no it isn't" arguing is the height of parody). If the budget pumped into the ineffective action sequences and endless sweeping shots of the city had gone into a better script, the film would seem a little less indulgent and a little more intelligent. Instead of trying to satirise action heroes and have great fight scenes, they could have had the hopefuls engage in deliberately small scale drama that they interpret as a high-stake situation. As it is, Mystery Men resembles a joyless attempt at placing losers in the middle of a scrubbed up Blade Runner yet forgetting to make their exploits involving.

Still, you could give these fine actors all the space in the world and they'd still have to bump heads against the least effective cartoon villain I've ever had the displeasure of seeing, Geoffery Rush's Casanova Frankenstein. Every time he's on screen the film instantly loses the momentum it was strenuously gathering, so much so that my Dad fell asleep at one stage in the film, and up to that point he'd been laughing like a giddy child. Casanova's sidekicks are much better value, disco leftovers who posture ridiculously before going into battle, and even though disco has been satirised endlessly this decade, they do manage to raise a smile.

Do we really need another parody of action heroes this late in the game? Didn't Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin do this with such unintentional force that any attempt to go beyond that excerable watermark would result in this type of humourless implosion? Didn't Arnold Schwarzenneger's beyond description Mister Frost close the book on stiffly delivered lines and high concept plotting? Will the next sentence also be a question? No.

adam rivett
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