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Hapless Heroes Win Big Laughs

Who is the greatest villain in Mystery Men? Is it Casanova Frankenstein, who captures Captain Amazing and plans to decimate Champion City? Or perhaps Casanova's sidekicks, Eddie Izzard and Pras, better known as the Disco Boys?

No, the greatest villain in Mystery Men is the Universal Pictures marketing department—or at least the people who construct the trailers and TV commercials. Watching these ads, you would think Mystery Men is silly, dumb and stale. Nothing could be further from the truth. (For a more accurate representation, see the clip.)

Laugh-loaded with that hip/Gen-X/Ben Stiller/Janeane Garofalo- type humor, it mixes in some visionary retro sci-fi and good ol' superhero fun. Mystery Men, in fact, deserves to be the sleeper smash of the summer. It is a turbo-charged Ghostbusters for the new millenium.

And if that don't beat all, it boasts enough great lines to keep people quoting past Labor Day—if not beyond. "We've got a blind date with destiny, and it looks like she's ordering the lobster," is one. "Right now, I'm like a powder keg, and you're the match," is another.

So brilliantly simple is the premise, you wonder why no one thought of it sooner. Based on a comic book series, it poses the question: What if a band of superheroes were blue-collar rather than blue leotard? And what if their powers were, shall we say, limited? To put it more succinctly, what if they were total losers?

Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear) reigns as the one true superhero in Champion City, a burg where one hero is more than enough. Bored and hoping to pump up his failing commercial endorsements, Amazing secretly arranges the prison release of the evil Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) just to give himself an archenemy and revived publicity. But that backfires when C.F. takes C.A. hostage and takes aim at the city with the Psycho Frakulator.

Enter our motley band of superhero wannabes, a group lacking in bells and whistles but plenty eager to serve. There's The Shoveler (William H. Macy), a man armored in roller-blade kneepads and baseball chest protector who fights crime with...a shovel; Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), a junkyard worker whose superhuman powers would be triggered by his explosive wrath...if only he had superhuman powers; and The Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), a mild-mannered American living at home with Mom by day...a silverware-throwing, turban-clad Englishman by night.

Realizing their team needs more wattage and new blood, the trio goes on a recruiting spree. By the time the headhunting and auditions are through, they've more than doubled their numbers.

Now the group also features The Bowler (Janeane Garofalo), who throws a super-powered ball at villains; The Spleen, who, when you pull his finger...well...the effects are powerful; and Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell), a teen with the power to turn invisible...as long as no one (including himself) is watching. Guiding hem spiritually is The Sphinx, a mysterious saying-spewing crime-fighter from down South.

They manage to gain an extra advantage with a few non-lethal weapons such as the canned tornado, the blame-thrower, and a machine that shrinks clothes...while they're worn! But mostly, the heroes must save the city with their own wiles, and summon the little superpowers they have.

In this movie's attempt to mock the cool conventions of superherodom, it becomes cool itself. But make no mistake, it's a cool powered by belly laughs.

Kinka Usher, the director of this future pop classic (or future cult classic—definitely some kind of future classic) makes his big-screen debut here. His prior credits include Taco Bell, Got Milk, and Miller Lite.

Yes, the director of one of this year's most imaginative films comes from TV commercials. And he just might be a superhero in the making.

Written by Rob Medich