[Screen It]


(1999) (Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria) (PG-13)

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Bad Attitude
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Smoking Tense Family
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Comedy/Action/Adventure: A team of lame superhero wannabes tries to thwart the efforts of a dastardly villain who's kidnaped their city's legendary crime fighter.
In the metropolis of Champion City, superhero Captain Amazing (GREG KINNEAR), a.k.a. billionaire Lance Hunt, is a legendary crime fighter facing a marketing dilemma. Having defeated or captured the city's most notorious villains, he's now faced with upset sponsors who see his value dropping and want to pull their ads from his costume. Thus, he arranges to have his arch nemesis, Casanova Frankenstein (GEOFFREY RUSH), who's been locked up for twenty years, released on parole so as to have someone to fight and thus maintain his public status.

Beyond Casanova, Amazing must also contend with a small team of lame superhero wannabes. By day, Roy (BEN STILLER) works in a junkyard for a domineering older woman, but by night he's Mr. Furious, known for his volcanic temper, although no one, including Monica (CLAIRE FORLANI), a local waitress, finds him intimidating.

His buddy Jeffrey (HANK AZARIA) lives with his mom who doesn't understand her son's incense burning or fascination with cutlery. That's because she doesn't realize that he's really The Blue Raja, a crime fighter known for his British accent, dexterity with forks as crime fighting tools and not wearing a stitch of anything blue. Then there's Eddie (WILLIAM H. MACY), a family man also known as The Shoveler due to his proficiency with that tool.

When the threesome learns that Casanova has kidnaped Amazing, they set out to rescue their idol and thwart the madman's plans. Unfortunately, they're little match for Casanova's disco henchmen, Tony C (PRAS) and Tony P (EDDIE IZZARD). Thus, they decided to recruit more superheroes and from an open audition, accept the following crime fighters into their team.

There's The Bowler (JANEANE GAROFALO), the daughter of a legendary pin man whose skull resides inside her transparent, but quite versatile bowling ball. The Spleen (PAUL REUBENS) is known for his noxious delivery of gaseous fumes that render his foes unconscious, while Invisible Boy (KEL MITCHELL), the youngest member, can become invisible but only if no one is watching.

With help from The Sphinx (WES STUDI), a legendary guru known for his philosophical rhetoric and an ability to cut guns in half with his mind and Dr. Heller (TOM WAITS), a mad scientist whose weapon inventions are unique, but not lethal, the team sets out to rescue Captain Amazing and capture Casanova before he manages to conquer Champion City.

If they're into comic book-inspired movies or are fans of someone in the cast, they just might (older male preteens and teens seem the likely audience).
For comic action violence and crude humor.
  • BEN STILLER plays the unofficial leader of the superhero wannabes whose volcanic temper doesn't impress or intimidate anyone and who acts like a spoiled brat when the team doesn't follow his every instruction.
  • HANK AZARIA plays a man who still lives at home with his mom, but feigning a British accent and Imperial dress, tries to be a crime fighter whose weapons of choice are forks that he throws at his foes.
  • WILLIAM H. MACY plays a humble family man whose proficiency with a shovel has led him to become a crime fighter.
  • JANEANE GAROFALO plays another superhero wannabe who uses and talks to a bowling ball that contains the skull of her late father.
  • GREG KINNEAR plays the city's legendary crime fighter and local billionaire, a somewhat snobbish man who's worried that his corporate sponsors may be pulling out on him.
  • KEL MITCHELL plays a young man who can only become invisible when no one is watching.
  • PAUL REUBENS plays a character known as The Spleen whose weapon of choice is his noxious flatulence.
  • GEOFFREY RUSH plays the evil super villain who kidnaps Captain Amazing and tries to conquer Champion City.
  • WES STUDI plays a mystical man known for his rhetorical philosophy who helps train the team.
  • CLAIRE FORLANI plays a local waitress who isn't impressed by Mr. Furious' show of anger, but still eventually falls for him anyway.


    OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
    Growing up as a rabid comic book fanatic during the late 1960s through the '70s, a small group of us kids wrote our own serials, complete with a unique cast of characters the world had never -- and more than likely would never -- witness. While our crudely drawn comics obviously didn't match up to the artistic or imaginative qualities of the day's popular -- and at the time, inexpensive -- comic books, we had one thing "The Fantastic Four," "The Avengers," "The X-Men" and other team-based series didn't, and that was a huge cast of horribly named superheroes.

    That's because my friends and I would sit out on the back stoop with a pencil, pad and unrelenting quest to grab "squatting rights" to any imaginable characters before the others could nab them for their own. As such, we named characters for anything that fell into our line of sight, and thus created "Fence Man," "Tree Man," "Bird Feeder Man" and a varied assortment of other characters whose attributes may have been undefined or uncertain, but nonetheless were thereafter property of their creator.

    While I'm not familiar with the Dark Horse comic book "Flaming Carrot" that inspired Universal's "Mystery Men," I can't help but feel that its creator(s) must have spent long summer days playing a similar name game. With characters such as "The Shoveler," "The Bowler," "The Waffler," and "Pencilhead," I felt right at home watching this amusing sendup of top dollar, big screen adaptions of comic books.

    Much like the Austin Powers movies are to the James Bond films they spoof, this one plays off the goofier nature of the Batman and Superman movies that were once a staple of the summer season, but have all but dried up now. Thus, "Mystery Men" not only offers a funny and satirical look at such "serious" comic book adaptions, but also fills the void left by such films' absence. It's a "two for one" bargain, and if you enjoy either type of film, you'll probably find this one entertaining.

    As written by Neil Cuthbert ("Hocus Pocus") and helmed by director Kinka Usher (who makes his feature film debut after a career of making TV commercials including Taco Bell's talking Chihuahua spots), the film is funny, but never really what most would consider hilarious. However, it is a consistently amusing spoof of the often ridiculous, but seriously presented elements found in comic books and their TV or movie adaptions.

    For example, I'm sure I'm not only the only one who ever questioned whether something in the waters of Gotham or Metropolis prevented its citizens from figuring out that Bruce Wayne was Batman or especially that Clark Kent was Superman.

    After all, if a pair of glasses is such a great disguise, why don't bank robbers simply don a pair while pulling off a heist? Of course, comics exist in their own unique universe with their own rules, and the glasses that conceal the superhero's alter ego scene is just one of the funny bits that's spoofed in this film (as the superhero wannabes argue whether Captain Amazing is really just the local billionaire in disguise).

    While this picture isn't quite as clever as the Austin Powers films as far as parodies go, and doesn't mine all of the possible comedic material from the comic book world and its big screen adaptions, its unique cast of lame superhero characters and the performers who inhabit them all but make up for such deficiencies.

    Something akin to "The Full Monty" meets "Batman," the film works because of its charming and winning representation of working class stiffs who aspire to make a difference in their world and/or be something more than their humble existence allows.

    Although it's always fun to root for the superhero and his/her amazing powers and abilities, it's often far more enjoyable to do so for characters who aren't in the same league, but often think or act like they are.

    While some may complain that the sheer number of superheroes doesn't allow any one character a great deal of individual screen time to stand out amongst the crowd (as compared to Mike Myers' characters in the "Austin Powers" flicks or the leads in the traditional "Batman" and "Superman" films), the ensemble effect actually works quite well. That's especially true since none of the characters are strong enough to carry the film on their own and their interaction with the others is what fuels the plot and its humor.

    As such, Ben Stiller ("There's Something About Mary," "Your Friends and Neighbors"), Hank Azaria ("Godzilla," "The Birdcage") and William H. Macy ("Pleasantville," "Fargo") are a blast to watch as the core group of three working class stiffs who think they're superhero material when they're clearly not.

    Supporting performances from Janeane Garofalo ("200 Cigarettes," "Clay Pigeons"), Paul Reubens (of Pee-Wee Herman fame from his TV show and movie), Wes Studi ("Deep Rising," "Dances With Wolves") and Kel Mitchell ("Good Burger") are all good if occasionally somewhat limited.

    Meanwhile, Greg Kinnear ('You've Got Mail," "As Good As It Gets") and Geoffrey Rush ("Shakespeare in Love," "Elizabeth") are dead-on as the overblown superhero -- with appropriate corporate sponsorship logos on his costume -- and his similarly flamboyant arch foe respectively.

    With the appropriate comic book turned movie atmosphere -- courtesy of production designer Kirk M. Petruccelli ("The Thirteenth Floor," "Blade") and cinematographer Stephen H. Burum ("Snake Eyes," "Mission: Impossible") -- and a big budget appearance -- thanks to visual effects supervisor Lori Beck ("Dante's Peak," "Virus") and effects generated by Rhythm and Hues & Pacific Ocean Post -- the film has the look of a serious superhero movie, but completely turns the genre on its head while blowing nonstop raspberries at it.

    Although the film runs a bit too long and loses momentum during its somewhat lackluster -- but obligatory -- concluding battle scene, audiences who've grown tired of the overblown spectacle of such films will probably get a kick out of this sendup. Goofy, charming and featuring a fun set of antihero characters, "Mystery Men" may not be the best comedy of the year, but it's certainly one of the most unique and is quite entertaining to watch. We give the film a 6.5 out of 10.

    The following is brief summary of the content found in this PG-13 rated comedy/action/adventure flick. Violence -- while all presented in a comic book fashion -- is extreme due to several people being killed, property being destroyed and plenty of action-style fighting. Some of the characters who are killed have their bodies grotesquely distorted and then burnt to a crisp by a power beam.

    Other violence involves people being threatened with or shot at by various guns and some kids may also want to imitate some of the listed fighting or other action that occurs during the film (such as using forks or bowling balls as weapons and farting for humor/adverse reaction from others).

    Profanity is mild due to a small assortment of cuss words and other colorful phrases also occur. A topless female statue/mannequin shows somewhat realistic looking bare breasts, while the side of real woman's bare butt is seen and some brief sexually related material also occur.

    Scatological humor occurs at various points in the film, mainly from a character who uses extreme flatulence as his weapon. As such, there are several instances of such sounds and the reactions of those impacted by the gas.

    Some drinking occurs with several characters briefly acting a bit tipsy, while a brief drug reference or two also occurs. Meanwhile, the villains obviously all have bad attitudes as does one of the heroes at times. Should you still be concerned with the film's appropriateness for yourself or anyone else in your home, we suggest that you take a closer look at the listed content.

  • Unsure of her son's activity and his burning of incense in his room, Jeffrey's mother asks him, "Are you on the marijuana?"
  • Casanova has some sort of drink.
  • To recruit more superheroes, the guys suggest having a barbeque "with a couple of kegs" to entice new members. During the "auditions," we see some beer in front of Raja, Shoveler, Furious and Spleen.
  • The superheroes have drinks (beer, martini, other drinks) in a bar and some of them later briefly appear somewhat drunk.
  • As The Spleen briefly tries to hit on The Bowler she says, "Sorry Spleen, there's not enough beer in the world" (to get her to accept his advances).
  • People have drinks at one of Casanova's parties and some bad frat boys ask Casanova if they can bring along their beer for his demonstration.
  • Casanova makes a comment that sounds like they still have time to "get stoned and boogie."
  • We see a detached prosthetic arm and a fake eye at a retirement home party, and later see a human skull inside The Bowler's bowling ball.
  • The following jokes/material regarding body parts/functioning are present: Mr. Furious hits his crotch hard on the seat of his motorcycle while trying to start it (and comments on his testicles), we see Raja sit down on an erect fork (and hear the sound of it going in him), The Spleen (who has exaggerated warts on his face and some gross-looking teeth) is seen farting several times (with lots of air movement and people in its path falling unconscious or otherwise adversely reacting to the smell or flames igniting behind him), and a character is named PMS Avenger and she states that she only works several days a month.
  • Mr. Furious has some slightly bloody toilet paper/tissue sticking from his nose. He then accidently blows it out and we see both his slightly bloody nose and a closeup of the small, but bloody paper/tissue (that he then puts back into his nose).
  • As a lethal beam hits his body, a character's face becomes grossly distorted before his whole body gets fried. We then see his charred remains (comic book style) and as one character touches his crispy arm, it falls off and shatters upon hitting the floor.
  • Later, we see another similarly burnt person.
  • Monica has a small drop of blood on her neck from where Casanova has pricked her with his sharpened fingernail. Mr. Furious has the same on his forehead and cheek from that same nail.
  • Casanova's mouth is a little bloody after being punched.
  • We briefly see a character's face distort and then be torn apart (but only momentarily seen).
  • None of the following is meant to be taken at face value (and instead is entirely presented in a comic book/parody fashion).
  • Casanova and his crew have both since they're the standard villains who try to conquer/destroy Champion City.
  • Some thugs who raid a retirement home party to terrorize and/or rob the attendees have both.
  • Mr. Furious acts like a spoiled brat (including tantrums) when he doesn't get his way.
  • Captain Amazing has something of a smug/snobbish attitude.
  • As Raja practices throwing his forks, we hear the stereotypical screeching sound of a cat (as if it were frightened and/or hit by a fork) -- thus possibly giving kids the wrong idea about such material being associated with laughs.
  • Some scenes listed under "Violence" may be a little suspenseful/tense for very young viewers, but few, if any, of them are intentionally played that way (instead they're done in a comic book style).
  • The same holds true for a human skull seen inside The Bowler's bowling ball and a moment where The Spleen is sucked up inside a prefabricated tornado and spun around the room.
  • As a lethal beam hits his body, a character's face becomes grossly distorted before his whole body gets fried. We then see his charred remains (comic book style) and as one character touches his crispy arm, it falls off and shatters upon hitting the floor. The sight of all of that may be frightening to very young kids.
  • Shovel/Forks/Bowling ball: Used by the superheroes to fight the villains.
  • Explosives: Used by Casanova to blow up a building.
  • Handguns/Machine Guns/Shotguns/Switchblade/Pipes/Chains: Used by Casanova's henchmen to threaten and/or shoot at the superheroes.
  • Tornado in a can/Blame thrower/Gun that fires dry-cleaning shrinking solution: Nonlethal weapons developed by Heller with some of them being used by the superheroes.
  • Power beam: Used by Casanova to fry several people and/or attack the city (and another character is accidently fried with it).
  • Phrases: "Shut up," "Sit down and shut up," "Checker head," "Moron(s)," 'Mama pajama," "Scum," "Jeez," "Bugger," "Cut the cheese," "You bet your sweet bippy," "Losers," "Twit," "Freak" and "What the fork" (said by Raja in relation to another similarly sounding comment).
  • Some kids may want to imitate certain actions that the superheroes take such as throwing forks or bowling balls at others, hitting others with shovels, etc... or purposefully farting at others for laughs or other reactions (with the old "pull my finger" bit before such action).
  • Some may imitate Jeffrey's feigned proper British accent.
  • As Raja practices throwing his forks, we hear the stereotypical screeching sound of a cat (as if it were frightened and/or hit by a fork) -- thus possibly giving kids the wrong idea about such material being associated with laughs.
  • During The Sphinx's training session, several characters walk barefoot over burning coals.
  • None.
  • A moderate amount of playfully suspenseful/adventurous music plays during certain scenes.
  • None.
  • What sounded like 1 "s" word, 4 asses, 1 hell (with another possible one), 1 use of "bugger," 1 possible damn and 2 uses of "Oh my God" as exclamations.
  • In a very brief shot in Casanova's place, we see what may be girly pictures on the wall, but it's just a momentary glimpse.
  • Mr. Furious makes a comment about what sounded like a "booty call" for Captain Amazing at Casanova's place.
  • We see a small nude model in Invisible Boy's bedroom that shows a man's bare butt.
  • We see several views (including a brief closeup) of an old amusement park-like statue/mannequin of a topless woman that has somewhat realistic looking bare breasts, as well as the emblem of a shapely woman (that's usually seen on the mudflaps of tractor trailers) in Dr. Heller's lab. Later, we see some nude cherubs.
  • We see a skunk mount and then begin humping The Spleen's leg (like a dog would and played for laughs).
  • Trying to elicit some much needed anger from Mr. Furious, The Sphinx tells him that he dresses like a male prostitute.
  • We briefly see a man in his small and tightfitting briefs and also see some brief cleavage from women.
  • When the group looks back at the nude Invisible Boy (who's now visible again because everyone looked at him), someone says "Wow!" while looking down at his crotch. While we don't see what they do, we do see Invisible Boy standing there completely nude with only his hands covering his crotch.
  • After some people have been sprayed with a dry-cleaning solution that quickly shrinks clothes, we see the side of a woman's bare butt as it's revealed. Seeing this, Mr. Furious comments that his pants feel like they're shrinking as well (innuendo).
  • A few men at Casanova's estate smoke cigars.
  • The Shoveler's crime fighting efforts soon put a strain on his marriage and near the end, his wife states that she might not be home when he returns from his latest outing (she doesn't believe he's a crime fighter).
  • That the underdogs, when working as a team, manage to be victorious and overcome any of their individual faults.
  • None of the following is meant to be taken at face value (and is presented in an intentional, comic book style fashion).
  • Some thugs crash a retirement home party and rob the attendees. The Blue Raja, The Shoveler and Mr. Furious then show up with Raja throwing forks at the villains and The Shoveler hitting some of them with his shovel. Mr. Furious tries to punch some of them and then struggles with others as some punches are thrown and a few tables are smashed. Raja then throws a fork that lands in The Shoveler's rear end (no blood), while several villains punch Mr. Furious in the gut. The Shoveler then accidently hits Mr. Furious on the head with his shovel. Captain Amazing then shows up, and punches or knocks the villains across the room.
  • While leaving the above, Amazing brushes aside a kid and a person in a wheelchair.
  • Casanova detonates an explosive that blows up a building.
  • Tony C punches Mr. Furious and then he and the rest of Casanova's henchmen encircle and kick Furious, Raja and the Shoveler on the ground (but not very graphically and it doesn't even look like they're making contact).
  • Two women -- dressed in superhero outfits -- punch each other and then wrestle on the ground, pulling each other's hair.
  • Our superheroes attack Casanova's limo, with The Shoveler repeatedly bashing the limo with his shovel (and breaking a window), Mr. Furious bouncing on the hood and top, Raja scraping the paint job with a fork and The Bowler throwing her ball through two of its windows. Tony C and Tony P then get out and fire many shots at the superheroes' escaping car.
  • Casanova's henchmen prepare to shoot the superheroes with handguns, but suddenly all of the guns are cut in half (by The Sphinx's powers).
  • As Raja practices throwing his forks, we hear the stereotypical screeching sound of a cat (as if it were frightened and/or hit by a fork).
  • As a lethal beam hits his body, a character's face becomes grossly distorted before his whole body gets fried. We then see his charred remains (comic book style) and as one character touches his crispy arm, it falls off and shatters upon hitting the floor.
  • The superheroes drive their armored vehicle through Casanova's large gate and then through his mansion's walls. His henchmen then open fire on the vehicle with an assortment of guns (handguns, machine guns, shotguns).
  • A person gets fried and burnt to a crisp by Casanova's power beam/laser.
  • The Bowler hits a man on the head with her ball bag.
  • The Shoveler repeatedly hits several assailants with his shovel and tosses one out a window and kicks another one. Another man then punches Shoveler and the two then spar with a shovel vs. a metal pipe/rod.
  • Some villains fire at The Spleen and Invisible Boy with machine guns and The Spleen is struck (no blood), but still manages to take out the assailants with a flatulence blast.
  • The Bowler's bowling ball smashes Tony P into a wall.
  • Casanova holds a sharpened fingernail to Monica's throat.
  • Some frat guys are electrocuted and killed by an energy beam.
  • Casanova goes after Mr. Furious with his sharpened nail and twice scratches him. He then punches him several times until Mr. Furious turns the tables and returns the punches.
  • Some power beams, and the sonic waves they create, destroy parts of the city.
  • A character is killed after falling into a power beam and a mansion explodes after the power beam generator is destroyed.

  • Reviewed July 26, 1999 / Posted August 6, 1999

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