Mystery Men

All In Color for $5.25 (matinees)

The Flaming Carrot is cartoonist Bob Burden’s most original and inspired creation, but that big carrot mask must’ve scared off facetime-loving Hollywood, so his second greatest creation gets the movie treatment instead.

Maybe it’s just as well, since most of the joy in this wild comedy comes in the casting. Ben Stiller (Next of Kin) stars as Mr. Furious, an ineffectual superhero whose superpowers consist of  merely throwing tantrums in the face of danger. Hank Azaria (Godzilla) is the Blue Raja,  a master of flying silverware and self-described effete faux-English superhero. William H. Macy (Fargo) is the Shoveler, a working class hero forever henpecked by his wife. This trio is always in the shadow of Champion City’s real hero, the glory-grabbing Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear of Blankman). That is, until Amazing runs out of bad guys to fight and puts into play a scheme to parole his old nemesis Cassanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush of Star Struck). His plan works too well and Cassanova easily captures him, leaving it up to the second string heroes to save the day.

Unfortunately, they lack fire power, and so must recruit some other low-watt titans. Janeane Garofalo (Clay Pigeons) is the Bowler, who gets her powers from her haunted bowling ball (the ball is clear, encasing her father’s lively flying skull!). Kel Mitchell (Good Burger) is a genial young not-so-Invisible Boy, who’s only transparent when nobody’s looking. Paul Reubens (Matilda) is the Spleen. And trouble brews as the team is almost usurped by the enigmatic Sphynx (Wes Studi of Deep Rising), who has the ability to cut guns in half. Even these newcomers would hardly be enough, but for the wacky weapons supplied by mad scientist and part-time gigalo Dr. Heller (Tom Waits of Dracula).

Taco Bell commercial director Kinka Usher somehow gained the reigns to this wannabe summer blockbuster, tarting it up as a sendup of the Batman series. Champion City is bigger, darker, and flashier than even Gotham, and everybody seems to be a superhero or villain mainly because they have an appropriate costume and gimmick. There are some truly inspired moments of zaniness here, but the feature floats only because of the performances – especially because of Garofalo, who’s can be cute, funny and complex all at once. Macy also shines, making his character both humorously pathetic and proudly heroic.

Usher almost undermines the whole thing by showing off with a camera that can’t stay still, which is especially inapt in that Burden’s humor – both visual and verbal – succeeds most by staying strictly deadpan, but enough quality bleeds through to make this one definitely worth seeing.

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