Starring: Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, William H. Macy, Paul Reubens, Janeane Garofalo, Wes Studi, Kel Mitchell, Geoffrey Rush, Greg Kinnear, Lena Olin, Claire Forlani, Tom Waits
Directed by: Kinka Usher
What’s the big deal? A first-rate cast as second-rate superheroes.
It seems curious not to have men in tights fighting crime in the nation’s megaplexes during the summer. Yet 1999 finds Hollywood’s crime-fighting first string on the sidelines. Batman’s in creative rehab, Superman can’t get off the ground, and Spider-Man’s still a few years away. But have no fear: The Mystery Men are here. Hinging on a concept derived from The Flaming Carrot (an issue of the cult-classic comic book Mystery Men), the movie stars Kinnear as Captain Amazing, the resident Superman of mythical Champion City. When he takes a leave of absence, the title team — a group of wannabe heroes led by the angry Mr. Furious (Stiller) — must defend this metropolis against the villainous Casanova Frankenstein (Rush).
But perhaps the most oddball aspect of the production is its eclectic cast — none of whom you’d expect to find playing superheroes. ”I’m the Bowler,” explains the inimitably deadpan Garofalo. ”I’m not that talented a bowler. The ball is very talented, as it has my dead father’s head in it, and he was a great bowler.” And you, Boogie Nights’ Macy? ”I’m the Shoveler. I shovel.”
Yes, Mystery Men is a comedy, imagining a world where being a superhero is at least as plausible as being a rap star. Says the Fugees’ Pras, who plays Tony C., a baddie with an even badder Afro: ”It’s as if you were sitting at dinner and some guy walked in dressed like this and really thinks that he has the flyest s— on and doesn’t feel out of place. That’s what’s funny about this movie.”
Still, funnyman Stiller had reservations. ”I had some issues with the tone of the movie,” he says. ”How were they going to retain the humor? How much of it was going to be an action movie?” His fears were assuaged by a call from his pal Garofalo, the casting of Rush and Studi (”I’m a big Last of the Mohicans fan,” says Stiller), and the director’s commitment to tonal equilibrium (”That’s why I get paid,” says Usher). Despite mounting a visually rich production that references both Antonio Gaudi and Francis Bacon, Usher was still committed to making a summer action flick. ”I’m not into movies because I need to make a statement as an artist,” says Usher, a director of commercials making his feature debut. ”I’m interested in producing a really entertaining experience and making a lot of money for the studio” — a sentiment that sounds truly heroic to Universal, which has its eye on franchise possibilities. However, ”I think it’s hubris to talk about all that,” says Azaria, who plays good guy Blue Raja. ”Remember, I was in Godzilla.” (Aug. 6, 1999)