Mystery Men Review

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A group of frankly crap superheroes attempt to rescue kidnapped real super-hero, Captain Amazing, in this stupidly entertaining comedy.


Conjuring up fond recollections of a game often played on improv telly show Whose Line Is It Anyway (in which the contestants pretend to be crap superheroes, funnily enough), this Dark Horse-inspired comic book adaptation -complete with one of the year's best ensemble casts - gleefully lampoons the activities of Batman, Superman and any other bloke who ever donned tights to save the world. And if its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach does sometimes fall flat, its one-joke concept still manages to just about sustain the running time.

The setting, fictional metropolis Champion City, is kept a crime-free zone thanks to Captain Amazing (Kinnear), the flamboyant superhero who has put most of the city's villains behind bars and whose own fame extends to the boundaries of Pepsi sponsorship (he even has his own publicist). Enter Casanova Frankenstein (Rush), whose world domination plans kick off with kidnapping the Captain, and suddenly Champion City's future is in the hands of a bunch of superhero wannabes.

This is a slim conceit and would certainly have benefitted from half an hour's judicious pruning. And the plethora of characters means some inevitably suffer, in particular Lena Olin (as Rush's sidekick) and Claire Forlani (supplying romantic interest), who end up in brief, largely thankless, roles. That said, it's far more fun than most of the recent superhero efforts, lovely to look at (the backdrops of Champion City are stunning), there's a great sub-plot involving the group's Karate Kid-style mentor, and the script offers astute and witty one-liners.

It's these which really give the film its edge, veering from post-modern banter (notably a scene in which Macy and Stiller argue over Captain Amazing's true identity) and downright daftness, through to a final reel which throws in a few unexpected surprises, not all of them pleasant. Mystery Men tanked in the States, where its irony and subversiveness flew straight over the heads of summer audiences. The more cynical British market should ensure it doesn't suffer a similar fate here.

The screenplay is packed with gags that hit; personal favourite is The Sphynx, a character whose "wisdom" is generated by reversing the ends of sentences ("He who does not control his rage is controlled by his rage"), and helmer Usher keeps the pace up so you don't notice the clangers. Only the inexplicable presence of Eddie Izzard - as unfunny as he was in The Avengers - conspires to slightly sour the stupidly entertaining brew.