Hey there all ye yogi bears, Harry here with a tasty morsel of MYSTERY MEN to see what our food critic Moriarty thought of this dessert dish. If you remember we had a great behind the scenes journey on this film with Robogeek's Journey to the set Part One, Part Two and Part Three which entertained and informed many of you way back then. But now... Well, Moriarty takes a looksee at the 'unfinished product'. He offers up some suggestions on a couple of the films problems, and well.... I'll let the dear Professor take it away.... What did the rest of you think? Especially you? Well, now for the evil genius...
Hey, Head Geek...
The strangest thing has been happening to me lately. Every time I've ventured out from the Moriarty Labs for any sort of geek-related event, I've been recognized. Perhaps it's my distinctive handlebar moustache. Perhaps it's the pack of deformed henchmen I travel with. Perhaps it was me showing up on the local news the other day to rant and rave about some STAR WARS related issue. Whatever the case, people are starting to spot me, and it has me worried. I'm thinking of adopting a secret identity.
To research the problems inherent to having a secret identity, I decided to attend a screening tonight of Universal's late summer superhero comedy MYSTERY MEN. Although I'm not familiar with Bob Burden's original comic, I had read the Neil Cuthbert draft of the script and liked it quite a bit. When they announced the cast of the film, I was intrigued, and knew this would be worth keeping an eye on it. The kicker, though, was seeing all of Robogeek's photos from his set visit earlier this year. Once I saw that they were going to go all out and really parody the big budget superhero movies, I knew I was in.
And the good news is that almost all of this film pays off. In particular, whoever cast this film deserves a raise and a vacation. Ben Stiller is hilarious as Mr. Furious, while William H. Macy brings his customary dignity and realism to a role as potentially preposterous as The Shoveler. Rounding out the original trio that the film focuses on is Hank Azaria, who is perfect as the Blue Rajah (even though there's very little blue in his costume and no one seems to know what a Rajah is exactly), Master of Silverware.
The film opens like any good superhero film should... with thugs busting up a nursing home. When a movie starts with a gang that steals an old man's artificial teeth, eye, and arm, you know you're not watching anything that could remotely be called "conventional." As Artie Lang (from MAD TV) and his goons bust the joint up, they are interrupted by our intrepid trio, who proceed to get their asses handed to them in a deeply embarrassing manner. The only reason the thugs are stopped at all is the appearance of Champion City's one true superhero, Captain Amazing, played with a startling amount of charm by Greg Kinnear. Between this film and YOU'VE GOT MAIL, it seems like Kinnear has figured out how to finally cut loose as an actor and really inhabit the characters he plays. He steals almost every scene he's in this film, which isn't nearly enough.
There's a lot of characters for the film to introduce, and the script by Cuthbert and Brent Forrester (THE BEN STILLER SHOW, IRON GIANT) is excellent at bringing each of them in without losing the focus on the original three. Kel Mitchell is good as The Invisible Boy, Wes Studi is fine as The Sphinx, Tom Waits does some nice supporting work, and there's some juicy bad guy hamminess by Geoffrey Rush, Lena Olin, Eddie Izzard (used much better here than in last year's horrific THE AVENGERS) and Pras of the Wu Tang Clan.
Still, it was clear who the audience loved from the way they reacted when both Paul Reubens and Janeane Garafolo were introduced. Bravo to the producers of this film for choosing Reubens, a comic genius whose career has been on hold for far too long now. He makes The Spleen, a character that plays like a cheap knockoff of Howard Stern's Fartman, much funnier than he should be able to, and he manages to be both disgusting and sweet at the same time. As far as Janeane is concerned, I love her. I openly proclaim my love for the gifted Ms. Garafolo right now, right here. As David Cross pointed out, we are all in love with Janeane at one point, and I have a feeling a whole lot of people are going to take their turn when they get a load of her as The Bowler. She made the most out of every gag in the film, and there were several places where she brought the house down.
That's not to say the film was perfect, though. Far from it, in fact. For one thing, the film does something that I hate a lot. There's endless amounts of clever scripting in the film up to the actual ending, the showdown with Casanova Frankenstein, but none of that matters when they actually get to the ending. It turns into just another lousy Hollywood summer movie where people stand around and look confused while expensive special effects happen.
And, yes, for those of you who are bound to comment below, I do know what an unfinished effect is and how to judge it. I'm not responding to the fact that the effect isn't perfect. I'm responding to the fact that nothing interesting happens. There's lights and colors and twirling things, and none of it is even remotely interesting. Instead, the characters stand around untl it's done, then go home. They get a light show, so do we, and nothing important happens at all. This is such a cop out after what's come before that I felt shocked. This movie is so on-target, so funny for the majority of its running time, that to see it fall on its face at the end is a shock.
Universal... you don't have to stick hard and fast to your August 6 date. You can take some extra time and finish this film up right. Come up with an ending that's inspired and incorporate it into the film. Don't leave the mess that's there now intact.
Remember... it's obvious to everyone who saw the film tonight that it is first and foremost a comedy. Don't worry about giving us big action at the end. Instead, worry about giving us the big laughs we deserve after such a sustained tease.
Director Kinka Usher makes a mixed debut as a feature director, to say the least. There are moments where he seems confident and sure about every choice, and there are other points where his inexperience shows. I don't think his habit of Terry Gilliam-style exaggeration is the right way to shoot every single closeup of a person in the film, but that's a minor stylistic choice. Overall, he's got a lot of wit and energy, and he's obviously a fan of the genre.
In fact, if there's any one thing that this film does well, it's make specific rips on comics while also demonstrating a deep love of the form. This is satire that comes from being a fan. I can't give away any of the big comics-inspired jokes, but I can say that I loved them all. I laughed long and loud tonight, and was even moved in an odd way by Stiller's wrestling with his secret identity (as well as that of Captain Amazing). His perfunctory love story with Claire Forlani lets Stiller show that sensitive hangdog side that keeps landing him romantic comedy leads, but does nothing at all to make her interesting. I will ask, though... there seems to be a colossal mistake in the film. I ask this question directly to Universal as they consider reshoots and edits. How did Casanova Frankenstein find Monica, and why does he bring her back to his place to torture her? And why does he attack Lena Olin? Is any of that funny? It's just some random moment that does nothing but confuse and complicate the film's already muddled ending.
In the end, I guess I can't recommend that you see this before you see IRON GIANT on August 6, but I would say that you should make time to see it second. In fact, treat yourself. Enjoy the embarrassment of riches that weekend. Hell, if THE MUSE and THE NINTH GATE are any good, that could turn into one of the summer's best weekends. As it stands now, comedy fans can rest easy. Between this film, AUSTIN POWERS 2, and BIG DADDY, there is plenty to laugh about in theaters near you.
Right now I have to go work on my disguise for my next venture out. I'm thinking of being a billionaire playboy in my secret identity. After all, what's the point of having one if you don't enjoy it? You could... that's, um, my secret identity I'm talking about, you perverts. Jeez... I've gotta go. Until then...