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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 12/17/99

Mystery Men
1999 (1999) - Universal

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Mystery Men Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/B+

Specs and Features

122 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 31:30, at the start of chapter 5), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary with director Kinka Usher, Spotlight on Location featurette, 3 theatrical trailers (Mystery Men plus preview trailers for Man on the Moon and Snow Falling on Cedars), 11 deleted scenes, origins of the Mystery Men comic book characters, Who Are Those Mystery Men music video by KEL and the M.A.F.T. EMCEES (featuring Romaine Jones), production notes, cast & crew bios, DVD-ROM feature (link to Universal Home Video web site), song access (12 songs), film-themed menus, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) & French (DD 3.0), subtitles: English, Close Captioned

"We're not your classic heroes… we're the other guys."

You've gotta love Mystery Men. It's tough not to dig a movie about a team of loser superheroes, who toil away day in and day out to save their fair city from evil, yet remain in total obscurity in the shadow of the local celebrity superhero, Captain Amazing. But unlike those who would follow in his footsteps, Captain Amazing (played by Greg Kinnear - I'm not kidding) is getting bored defending the citizens of Champion City. You see… he's beaten all of the good bad guys. There's no more action left, and now he's in danger of losing all of his product endorsement deals (he advertises stuff on his uniform). So on the advice of his publicist, he arranges the release of his greatest nemesis, Casanova Frankenstein (played by none other than Geoffrey Rush). But his plan gets away from him, and he's captured by Casanova. When our working-class heroes become aware of this, they decide that it's up to them to save Amazing. Unfortunately, their plan also goes horribly awry, and soon they find themselves all that stands between Casanova and his nefarious goals.

So who are these Average Joe Defenders of Justice? We'll let me give you a rundown of these would-be heroes, and their "super" powers. There's Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), who's power comes from his boundless rage. The Shoveler (William H. Macy) has a gift… he shovels well. The Blue Raja (Hank Azaria) is the master of cutlery. The Bowler (Janeane Garofalo) throws a mean bowling ball (one with her late father's skull inside). The Spleen (Paul Reubens)... well, let's say if you pull his finger, you'll get a whiff of his wrath. The Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell) can become invisible… when no one is looking. And the Sphinx (Wes Studi) is the spiritual leader of the team, and the master of obscure wisdom. If you aren't interested in seeing Mystery Men by now, I don't know what would grab you.

This film is just packed with funny moments. When Mr. Furious tries to stave off his rage by frantically squeezing a stress ball, I was in stitches. The Shoveler defends Amazing's secret identity (a spoof on the Superman/Klark Kent lore) by saying, "Lance Hunt wears glasses… Captain Amazing doesn't wear glasses!" The superhero audition scene is a classic. I crack up every time I see the Blue Raja jump out and fork Casanova's car in the team's first battle with the super-villain. And yes… that is Armageddon director Michael Bay in a very brief cameo ("Dude… can we bring the brewskis?").

All that is not to say that Mystery Men is perfect. For one thing, it's rather slow moving and overly long. And while I know that this film is a spoof of the superhero genre, the Amazing/Casanova dynamic doesn't quite work here. I think it would have been much more effective if the two had been a more realistic superhero/villain pair, rather than a caricature of one. That way, when it became up to our unlikely heroes to save the day, there would have been a more heightened sense of jeopardy. Still, with this cast and these characters, you've got to give Mystery Men an "A" for effort at least. I mean, just getting to watch Bill Macy twirling a shovel around is worth a few bucks alone.

The DVD itself is pretty nice. The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen, and it looks generally very good. The color is rich and accurate, and there's excellent contrast and black level detail. It isn't quite reference quality however. This is a dark film, with noticeable grain exhibited in the print, so detail is occasionally a little lacking. To compensate, there's a hair too much edge enhancement as well. But the video still looks darned good, these minor issues aside. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is also solid, creating a full-sounding soundstage. Dialogue is placed in the center channel almost exclusively, but it still sounds fairly natural. There are lots of fun directional effects (this is a superhero movie after all), and the bass is excellent. Audio is also provided in French 3.0 Dolby Surround.

This DVD also has a fairly decent bunch of extras. I'm actually surprised it doesn't say "Collector's Edition" on the front, because this disc has more bonus material than some of Universal's premium titles. There's an interesting, if a little boring, commentary track with director Kinka Usher (who has directed a ton of funny television commercials). Stick with it though, because there's some interesting tidbits of information conveyed. There's a great bunch of deleted scenes, including a very funny one were The Shoveler's kids make fun of him when he gets home from a hard day's superhero work ("Stronger than deodorant… unable to leap over anything…"). There's a 17-minute Spotlight on Location featurette on the making of the film, and a music video for Who Are Those Mystery Men by Kel Mitchell (who also plays The Invisible Boy in the film). There's also the usual cast & crew information and production notes, as well as a good text essay on the origins of these characters (who made their first appearance in the Flaming Carrot comic book). You also get the film's theatrical trailer and preview trailers for Universal's Man on the Moon and Snow Falling on Cedars. Finally, there's a DVD-ROM link to the Universal Home Video web site.

Mystery Men is a funny and original movie. Sure, it isn't perfect. But it made me laugh more than a few times, and that's good enough for me to overlook its weak points. I hope Universal gets around to making a sequel to Mystery Men, because I think this could become one of the most interesting film franchises in a long time. The possibilities are endless, and with such great casting, you're gonna hit pay dirt sooner of later. In any case, this is a fun DVD that's well worth a spin. And it's a disc I'm glad to have in my collection.

Bill Hunt

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