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In this episode: Mystery Men

A strange and unexpected thing happened to me yesterday. I got an apology letter from Delta Air Lines. That's right. You heard me correctly. A Letter of Apology. It was unsolicited. Though a form letter, it was an event-specific form letter, apologizing that flight 149 from NYC to LAX was delayed on July 11, 1999. It explained what happened, that a new plane was substituted for a plane suffering from mechanical failure, etc. It is not something I would have expected an American corporation to ever bother doing.

The makers of Mystery Men should take Delta's lead and draft a semi-form letter to the cast of their movie. They should apologize for wasting their time and talents. They should apologize for failing to substitute a script suffering from mechanical failure with a script full of writing. They should also apologize for forcing the actors to work with a director suffering from Schumacher-Bay Syndrome. It would be a grand gesture, that letter. It is not something anyone would expect the American movie machine to ever bother doing.

I feel so sorry for the amazing cast of Mystery Men: Hank Azaria, Janeane Garofalo, Greg Kinnear, William H. Macy, Paul Rubens, Geoffrey Rush, Ben Stiller, Wes Studi, and several other good folks. To get such talented people in the same movie together and then smother them with bad directing, bad writing, and bad editing is a shame the likes of which would have made Jack the Ripper run out from the shadows and turn himself in. I cluck with disapproval.

It is fair to say that there are many funny moments in Mystery Men, moments that would not have been funny had, say, the cast included David Spade, Adam Sandler, Madonna, Charo, Bruce Willis, the Olsen twins, and Alan Greenspan. More kudos for the cast in at least giving me something to laugh at. It is also fair to say that the concept itself is very clever and would have made a good movie, had someone bothered to actually make one. Alas, the only reason to see this mess is the cast.

Actually, there is another reason to see this movie: Dan. My friend Dan did some fine CG work in the movie, and since I saw it yesterday, his birthday, I figure it would be nice to recognize his achievement in this flick. Congrats, Dan, and happy b-day.

Most of the digital effects were very nicely done here. They looked fake, sure, but the Mystery Men's world is a fake world, so the hyper-pseudorealism of this CG work is welcome.

Okay, so there are three reasons to see this movie: actors, CG, and Dan. Oh, and that Smashmouth song. Four reasons.


Mystery Men is most annoying in that way that I have bitched about countless times in the past: overediting. Yup, the director of this film—Kinka Usher, a name that sounds like it requires the application of medicated ointment three times a day to prevent swelling—is in love with his own shots and just must have them in there, even if they disrupt the look of the movie. Kinka (I can't decide what's more difficult to call him, "Kinka" or "Mr. Usher") comes from commercial directing, and this is his first feature. Obviously. What worked for his commercials, which include Got Milk? and Nike, does not work here. Sorry, bub. The movie is splotchy, and were the production design not colorful and amusing, it'd be ugly to watch. Wait, it is ugly to watch! Perhaps it'd be more apt to say the production design, while being colorful and amusing, is also busy and confusing. The Fifth Element had a similarly busy and confusing and colorful and amusing design, but everything seemed to be working as a whole, everything was part of the same world and that world was fascinating and original and the directing was solid and good. In Mystery Men, the world is just thrown together. Kinka seems confused himself. Blah. Enough about that.

I just cringe when I think of all the clever ideas that formed the skeleton of this movie. I suppose this means I should look past the exterior and love what's inside, à la Quasimodo. Nah. No thanks. This skeleton ain't worth the skin it's wrapped in, and Michael Jackson should feel free to bid on the pathetic thing for his collection.

This may make an amusing night of video watching, but spare yourself the wasted theater time and go see something that matters. I myself am planning on seeing Eyes Wide Shut tonight, hoping to let the substance of that movie cleanse out the pulp vacuousness of Mystery Men. Wish me luck.




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©1999 Steven Lekowicz