Mystery Men (1999)

(In theaters, August 1999) Holds the distinction of being a satisfying disappointment. Given its premise (a satire of superhero films by looking at the “B-grade” superheroes), its assembled talent and its superb special effect work, one could have expected a truly memorable experience. Alas, such is not the case: The narrative meanders, the quips are wildly uneven, the villain isn’t impressive, the resolution too conventional. Fortunately, the end result is still loads of fun, much like when Men In Black delivered good summer fun even if it couldn’t match its own premise. Most of the actors are delightful (with special kudos to Ben Stiller, William H. Macy and Janeane Garofalo), some one-liners are really good (“By doubting training you only train yourself to doubt”) and the overall atmosphere is just wonderful. Grrreat soundtrack. Yes, Mystery Men could have been much more, but it’s quite delightful as it is.

(Second viewing, On DVD, November 2000) This isn’t quite as good the second time around. Sure, the actors/characters are (mostly) as appealing, the lines still as funny and the overall sense of fun still unbeatable. But the bad moments, boring stretches and various incoherencies all pile up to diminish the film’s lasting impression. Director Kinsha Usher’s commentary track is one that will actually diminish your opinion of the film by pointing out last-minutes ad-libs, referencing deleted scenes not included anywhere on the DVD and generally acting like a barely-articulate doofus. (“…and we thought it was really funny” is the commentary track’s most-often repeated line. Problem is that the “funny” stuff most often isn’t.) Worse; a lot of the film’s jokes seems to have been put together by the actors, director, production assistants, even the assistant sound editors… but the writer is barely referenced once. (And even then, it’s as a vaguely derogatory reference to the film’s original script.) Oh well… comedy by committee usually works well, though as proven here, it doesn’t hold up very long.

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