From his secret base on the Moon, the wicked Lightning Bug sets in motion his plans to enslave the free world with the power of Rocket Roll, a new and destructive type of music. However he reckons without the J-Men, a team of agents who make it their business to foil the Lightning Bug at every turn - little do they know that he has a bigger menace up his sleeve...
The practice of redubbing old movies for comic effect first gained attention when Woody Allen's What's Up Tiger Lily? was released in 1966, but it's never really caught on. J-Men Forever was brought to us by members of The Firesign Theater, a comedy troupe of subversive and wacky humourists who have been around since the late sixties, and probably best known for their albums.
What they do here is take footage of old black and white serials and redub it with hip dialogue. The Lightning Bug sounds like DJ Wolfman Jack, and the superheroes of the forties are given new names: Captain Marvel becomes The Caped Madman, Captain America becomes the Lone Star, and (my favourite) the King of the Rocket Men becomes Rocket Jock. Interspersed with this are new scenes of writers Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman who are running the show.
The trouble is, once you've accepted the main joke about square old movies being transformed into a counterculture, dope-smoking parody, that's your lot, there's not much to it but that. There are good lines such as "This kind of music could get me pregnant!" and wordplay like "We're overwhelmingly overconfident, I mean, we're whelmingly confident!" or "Let's bomb the snatch - uh, snatch the bomb!", but most of it is pretty obvious, complete with fart sound effects or groaning puns like "This is the pits!" when a character falls through yet another trapdoor.
What might have worked as a half hour short is stretched out even at 75 minutes. You may also start thinking that the old serials could be more interesting in their original form: see how casually violent Captain Marvel is, throwing enemies off rooftops or machine gunning them in the back. But it's well-edited (the montage of crashing cars for example) and painless enough - if only they had better music in it. Hercules Returns is superior. Also with: a reassuring ending.