Sunday, February 17, 2008

The lost possibilities of Mystery Men

If I pitched you a movie based on indie superheroes, and I had cast of:

William H. Macy
Greg Kinnear
Hank Azaria
Ben Stiller
Claire Forlani
Janeane Garofalo
Paul Pee Wee Herman Reubens
Eddie Izzard
Geoffrey Rush
Tom Waits
A not-so-annoying cameo by Dane Cook
Ricky Jay

And I told you it was not one of the greatest movies of the nineties, you'd think I was nuts. Mystery Men represents a phenomenally blown opportunity. Not clever enough by half, and too reliant on fart jokes to be embraced by the hipsters - who would otherwise be rolling on the floor, convulsing in knowledgeable smirks over the black Invisible Boy and his powers, which can only be used when no one is looking - it is maddening to watch.

Transfixed by the near miss I watch it again and again, spotting blown opportunity after gaping plot hole after half-assed joke. I can't help myself - I can see the shell of the classic it could have been. Coming out as it did in 1999, Mystery Men could have been the definitive Gen-X slacker comedy, referencing indie comics and music, the angsty comedians who got rich and bloated off the decade, Ben Stiller before he got annoying, Dane Cook before he became the opposite of funny.

But why harp on Mystery Men? There are literally dozens of similarly afflicted movies, movies that could have been so much better with a tweak here or a rewrite there. But Mystery Men's failures are more personal, they hit closer to home, at least for me.

It could have been my favorite movie, dammit! What a cast! What a concept! And it all went to hell because it wouldn't go far enough! It wussed out, falling back on farts, and easy sight gags. Typical Generation X laziness. In that respect, it truly is the pardigmatic 90's movie, with all its unrealized potential.

So really it's all Kurt Cobain's fault.

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