Mystery Men Blu-ray offers decent video and great audio in this overall recommended Blu-ray release
When Captain Amazing, chief superhero of Champion City, is kidnapped by insane supervillain Casanova Frankenstein, who will save the city and ensure that justice is served? Enter the Mystery Men: Mr. Furious, The Bowler, The Blue Raja, The Shoveler, The Spleen, The Sphinx, and the Invisible Boy- a group of misfits in possession of superpowers...sort of. Watch the mayhem ensue, as this wacky team goes up against Frankenstein and his mad henchmen.
For more about Mystery Men and the Mystery Men Blu-ray release, see Mystery Men Blu-ray Review published by Michael Reuben on August 16, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Mystery Men is a cult classic, but Universal obviously had something else in mind for a
production budget of $65 million (or more, depending on the source). It assembled a name-brand
cast led by Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, Hank Azaria and Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush. It
recruited a highly regarded director, Kinka Usher, from the same group of slick commercial
helmers that spawned Michael Bay (who has a cameo in the film). And it bought the rights to a
comic book property known as Flaming Carrot created by Bob Burden, who has achieved both
popular and critical acclaim. What could go wrong?
Creatively, nothing did. Mystery Men has remained a perennial on home video, and it holds up
after multiple viewings. (I watch it again every few years, and I've seen it in every format,
including theatrically.) But for reasons at which one can only guess, audiences didn't show when
the film was released to theaters in August 1999. The film made less than $30 million at the U.S.
box office, less than half its production cost.
What's most striking about Mystery Men is its comic bounty. The more varied you like your
laughs, the more you're likely to enjoy the film, because it keeps changing registers, mixing the
juvenile with the urbane and pairing every dollop of sophisticated wit is paired with an equally
silly pratfall. (The Monty Python crew would be proud.) Credit director Usher, his talented
ensemble cast (which improvised freely) and ace editor Conrad Buff with melding so many
comedic styles that the film can accommodate both the dumbest fart jokes (courtesy of Paul
Reubens' character, the Spleen) and hilarious inside references like the publicist who deadpans to
his client, "I'm a publicist, not a magician"—and happens to be played by world-renowned
magician Ricky Jay.
Champion City resembles the hodgepodge Gotham of the Tim Burton Batman franchise after
Joel Schumacher got his hands on it, but with a touch of Terry Gilliam's whimsy. The city's
crime rate is blessedly low, however, thanks to the efforts of tireless superhero Captain Amazing
(Greg Kinnear). The Captain's crime-fighting efforts are aided and funded by his secret identity
as billionaire tycoon Lance Hunt. Like Clark Kent hiding his identity as Superman, Hunt dons his
disguise simply by wearing glasses, and everyone is fooled. (Well, almost everyone.)
Occasional crimes still occur, and as the film opens, a rococo retirement community is being
robbed by a brazen gang of thieves, when a trio of would-be superheroes tries to intervene. The
Shoveler (Macy) wields a shovel; the Blue Rajah (Azaria) flings forks while dispensing
wisecracks in a posh British accent; and Mr. Furious (Stiller) threatens to lose his temper, after
which not much ever happens beyond Furious injuring himself. Indeed, the whole group does
more harm to themselves than the thieves before Captain Amazing appears to contain the
Privately, though, Captain Amazing is in a funk. His fortunes depend on corporate
sponsorships—his costume has more logos on it than a NASCAR driver's—and the sponsors are
disappearing, now that he's no longer bringing them spectacular crime-fighting exploits. Success
has prematurely ended a profitable career. So Captain Amazing arranges through his alter ego,
Lance Hunt, for the early release of his most deadly enemy, Casanova Frankenstein (Rush), from
an asylum for the criminally insane, where the charismatic Casanova has already persuaded his
doctor, Anabel Leek (Lena Olin), to argue that he's been "cured".
Of course, both Dr. Leek and Captain Amazing know full well that Casanova remains a criminal
mastermind who's just itching to get back to business. In his deliriously evil but non-specific
accent, Casanova immediately summons every gang in town to his mansion, promising to lead
them in a glorious new era of lawlessness. As a demonstration of superiority, he takes Captain
Amazing prisoner and prepares to execute him. So much for the Captain's plan to reconfirm his
prowess and restore his endorsements. (Kinnear's portrayal of the Captain as a preening poseur
who immediately wilts when the chips are down is hilarious.)
Meanwhile, the frustrated trio, Blue Rajah, Shoveler and Mr. Furious (a/k/a "Roy"), have been
sitting at their usual coffee shop bemoaning their shortcomings and quarreling. (One gets the
sense this is their primary activity as superheroes.) In their private lives, they work low-rent jobs
and get zero respect. Shoveler's wife, Lucille (Jennifer Lewis), tells him to grow up; Blue
Rajah's mother, Violet (Louise Lasser), wants to know if he's on drugs; and Roy slaves at an
automotive junkyard and can't even get a date with the coffee shop waitress, Monica (Claire
Forlani), who's caught his eye. But when they discover that Captain Amazing and Lance Hunt
have disappeared, they have to do something.
It gives nothing away to reveal that the gang eventually vanquishes Casanova Frankenstein just
before he levels Champion City with something called the psycho-frakulator. But that's hardly
the point. It's what happens along the way that makes Mystery Men worth watching. The gang
argues. They quibble. They whine. They hold tryouts for new recruits, which attract lunatic
candidates like Dane Cook's "Waffler". (Cook wrote his own material, and he has about a
minute of screen time, which is exactly the right amount of Dane Cook.) Ultimately they're
joined by Spleen (Reubens), whose deadly farts are the result of a gypsy curse; Invisible Boy (Kel
Mitchell), who suffers from the inconvenience of only being able to remain invisible when no
one is looking; and the Bowler (Janeane Garofalo), whose ball performs amazing feats because
it's molded around the skull of her late father, Carmine, himself a former superhero (who still
talks to her from within the ball).
Now expanded to a sextet, the group comes under the tutelage of Sphinx (Wes Studi), who is, as
the Blue Rajah says, "terribly mysterious". With his oracular pronouncements, Sphinx is the
epitome of every Oriental or Native American spiritual guru ever seen in a movie or TV show,
and none of the gang can resist his allure—except, that is, for Mr. Furious, who finds himself
displaced as the group's leader and is, well, furious about it. The gang almost breaks up, but
reunites in the face of danger, because . . . do I have to spell it out?
Logistical support is provided by Doc Heller (Tom Waits), an inventor who specializes in "non-lethal" weaponry such as the blamethrower, which
immediately causes your enemies to start
arguing with each other about whose fault everything is. Essential banter is provided by Tony P
(Eddie Izzard) and Tony C (Prakazrel Michel), leaders of the Disco Boys, Champion City's most
notorious gang. In a movie filled with threatened wrongdoing, their clothes may be the most
offensive crime of all.
In the ongoing saga of Universal's catalog titles on Blu-ray, Mystery Men falls somewhere in the
middle of the pack. Designed to look as unnatural as possible and photographed by
cinematographer Stephen H. Burum (The Untouchables, The Shadow, the first Mission
Impossible) with a comic book sheen, this is the rare Blu-ray of which I can confidently say that
it should "pop" more than it does. The 1080p, VC-1-encoded image reveals an acceptable level
of fine detail in the elaborately designed sets and costumes, and the wide array of colors is well
enough represented to distinguish among the many environments of Champion City. But contrast
is somewhat understated, and blacks are slightly crushed, which gives a dimness to the image
overall. It's almost as if the colorist were afraid that accentuating the image to the proper levels
would call too much attention to the natural film grain that remains visible in the background, if
you look for it—and, as I have noted elsewhere, Universal's
current philosophy seems to be to
minimize visible film grain to the extent possible, without stripping away any detail. In this
instance, the result isn't a disaster, but the image doesn't reflect the visual exuberance it should
have. At least there were no compression errors.
Presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1, the soundtrack for Mystery Men is a playful affair, with frequent
occurrences of foley effects and voices in the rear channels. The Bowler's self-guided ball,
accompanied by an unearthly Cylon-like hum, provides some interesting pans, and the sustained
concluding sequence of the assault on Casanova Frankenstein's mansion has enough crashing,
explosions, gunfire and psycho-frakulating (you'll know it when you hear it) to keep all parts of a
5.1 sound system active and engaged. Bass extension is sufficient to have impact, though nothing
on a par with the best contemporary soundtracks (e.g., the Transformers films). The dialogue is
clear enough to hear every goofy exchange, even with Geoffrey Rush's exaggerated (and
unidentifiable) accent. The ripely comic score by Stephen Warbeck (Oscar winner for
Shakespeare in Love) has just the right touch of overstatement.
As has become Universal's custom, the Mystery Men Blu-ray has no main menu. Expect this
user-unfriendly practice to continue, unless enough people complain.
The extras supplied with Mystery Men have been shrinking ever since the 2000 DVD release.
The Blu-ray even omits a few that were included on the HD-DVD released in 2007.
The following were only on the DVD:
Cast and Filmmakers
Universal Showcase and Recommendations (trailers for Man on the Moon, Snow
Falling on Cedars, Army of Darkness, American Pie and Darkman)
DVD-ROM features, including links to the Universal website and a Mystery Man
The following were only on the HD-DVD and DVD:
Universal Soundtrack Presentation, which was essentially a music video for the
song "Who Are Those Mystery Men" by Kel and the M.A.F.T. Emcees (which
plays during the closing credits), followed by an ad for the film's soundtrack.
The Origin of the Mystery Men Comic Book Characters, a series of text screens
recounting the original conception of the Mystery Men as sidekicks to the
character known as "Flaming Carrot".
The following were on the DVD and HD-DVD and are now included on the Blu-ray:
Commentary with Director Kinka Usher: Usher's commentary isn't dull, but it
isn't particularly insightful. Too much consists of descriptions of visual jokes that
don't gain from description. The useful parts are where Usher points out ad libs
(of which there were many), describes scenes that had to be deleted for running
time (many of which are included in the "Deleted Scenes" section), and recounts
anecdotes from the set (e.g., Ben Stiller reacting while his mother, Anne Meara,
read the lines off-camera that are spoken in the film by Sally (Gayle Vance),
Roy's harpy of a boss, and Stiller's father, Jerry, sat next to the director; Stiller's
famous parents were visiting the set that day).
Deleted Scenes (SD; 1.85:1, non-enhanced; 19:40): There are ten scenes,
including some early trims providing an expanded look at the home lives of
Shoveler and Blue Rajah, an alternate introduction to the Sphinx, and the original
version (without effects) of the psycho-frakulator's destruction.
Spotlight on Location: The Making of Mystery Men (SD; 1.33:1; 17:40): A
reasonably entertaining behind-the-scenes featurette that includes interviews with
most of the principal cast.
Theatrical Trailer (SD; 1.85:1, non-enhanced; 2:26): "In a place called
Champion City . . . "
Maybe Mystery Men was made too soon. Audiences in 1999 may not have been ready for a
comedy about cut-rate superheroes. Today we've all been exposed to a much wider variety of
films based on the Marvel and DC catalogs. We've also seen Kick-Ass (which did much better
box office than Mystery Men). The national mood has changed as well. In the prosperous and
optimistic Nineties, the blue collar and middle class frustrations of Mystery Men's heroes may
have struck some viewers as pitiful. In today's straitened economic climate, their aspiration,
through sheer will, to be something more than their limited circumstances should allow, would
fit right in.
Of course, today much of the existing cast would be too old for their parts, and you wouldn't get
the perfectly meshed ensemble that made the existing film. Every time I watch Mystery Men, a
different element grabs my attention and stands out as particularly inspired. This time, it was
Tom Waits's Doc Heller, whose relaxed self-assurance outmatches even that of the inscrutable
Sphinx. After he shows the gang his advanced non-lethal weaponry, the Shoveller exclaims,
"Doc, you are a genius!". To which Heller replies with a shrug: "That's what it says on the card."
But Heller's card, which he's previously handed over, doesn't say that. Instead, it's a word salad
of bizarre occupations, all of them incongruous, none of them "genius": "Weapons Designer,
Innovator, Inventor, World Changer", with specialties in "Carnival Rides", "Aromatherapy",
"Laser Hair Removal" and "Chicken Rentals". Still, I guess anyone who pursues all those trades
at the same time might consider himself a genius. Who knows? (I love absurdist humor.)
Although the Blu-ray of Mystery Men isn't the best it could be, it's the best the film has looked
since the theater, and Universal is unlikely to revisit it anytime soon. The film itself is highly