In Champion City, Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear) has wiped out crime, but when his old enemy Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) is released on parole, the Captain finds himself kidnapped and the city finds itself without its defender. Step forward three aspiring superheroes who set out to save the day - but things don't according to plan...
This expensive-looking comedy fantasy was written by Neil Cuthbert and based on the bizarre comic books of Bob Burden. In the original comics, the Mystery Men were supporting characters to Flaming Carrot, but the Carrot was considered too difficult to film, so here those secondary heroes take centre stage.
The cast is excellent, all turning in assured, confident performances. Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller) has trouble controlling his temper, and is a "ticking time bomb of fury". The Blue Rajah (Hank Azaria) throws cutlery with incredible precision, but refuses to handle knives. The Shoveler (William H. Macy) has a, well, shovel as his weapon of choice. They are joined by The Bowler (Janeane Garofalo) who carries her father's skull in a lethal bowling ball, Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell) who is only invisible when no one is watching, and The Spleen (Paul Reubens) who, er, farts, basically.
There are various satirical jabs such as Captain Amazing being heavily sponsored (logos adorn his costume) and the odd class struggle theme (the team are truly working class heroes), but this is essentially a good natured spoof on superheroes, there's nothing too heavy here. No one believes Mr Furious when he says the Captain and millionaire Lance Hunt are one and the same (how could Hunt see without his glasses? the others reason), and the team are adopted by mentor the Sphinx (Wes Studi) who spouts superhero clichés in place of wisdom.
You know how often in movies there always seems to be the emotional "relationship" scene, where the characters level with each other and generally hold up the action? No such problems here, the heroes relationships are at the heart of the film and provide much of the humour. These guys are hopelessly optimistic in the face of overwhelming odds, and, despite their flaws and arguments, are willing to pull together to do their best. The whole story ends up being unexpectedly inspirational (even if they do constantly make mistakes like, say, accidentally killing people).
It's a pity this didn't do better at the box office, because it's a genuinely likeable alternative to serious superhero epics and a sequel would have been very welcome. I don't know about you, but I'd rather have the Mystery Men on my side than the X-Men. Music by Stephen Warbeck. Keep watching the credits to see the names of the auditioning heroes.