This semi-successful attempt at a post-modern comic-book style story that has it both ways, archly commenting on superhero sagas while actually giving us a new and cooler version of one at the same time. That is an all but impossible task, and “Mystery Men” comes closer than many, with its sensational production design and cast members who know how to nail dialogue with just the right spin of irony (“Maybe you’d better put on some shorts,” says Jeaneane Garofolo as The Bowler to the Invisible Boy who has just become visible, “if you want to keep fighting evil today.”).
Champion City is just about idyllic now that its superhero, Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear) has thoroughly vanquished all the bad guys. But without bad guys, Captain Amazing’s visibility — and his corporate endorsements — are declining. He arranges for the release of an old arch- enemy, Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush), so that they can battle again. Things do not go as he planned, however, and Frankenstein captures him. A group of secondary superheroes with quirky powers come to his rescue, including the Blue Rajah (Hank Azaria), who throws forks and spoons (but never knives); Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), whose anger gives him strength; The Bowler (Jeaneane Garofolo), who has a powerful bowling ball with her father’s skull inside); Invisible Boy (Kel Martin), who can’t disappear if anyone is looking; The Shoveler (William H. Macy), who shovels very, very well; and The Spleen (Paul Reubens), who has killer flatulence. Guided by the Delphic Sphinx (Wes Studi), they learn the importance of self-esteem and teamwork, as though they had wandered into some “Mighty Ducks” movie.
Parents should know that much of the humor will be above the heads of most teens, and that what is left tends to be potty humor. Furthermore, though the violence is comic book style, three characters are incinerated in a scary manner. Almost as scary is the way that no one seems to care about that very much, even though one of them is one of the good guys. It is nice to see a female superhero (despite the title), and Garofolo’s Bowler is first among equals in self-possession, maturity, and ability. Families should discuss individual abilities, and what superpowers each member of the family would most like to have.