The Muse, Mystery Men

The Muse (1999) *** Like many inside-Hollywood movies, this film sometimes assumes its audience knows more than it does. This is in direct opposition to the way most of the other Hollywood movies, which assumes the audience knows next to nothing. The difference is that these inside-Hollywood movies tend to rely too much on jokes and clever asides that only make sense to someone involved with the making of movies. I’m sure Albert Brooks was clapping himself on the back after he turned this script in to the studio. Trouble is, most of us DON’T make movies. I know, Hollywood, it’s tough to comprehend, isn’t it?

Anyway, Brooks is a struggling screenwriter who’s seen better days. The studio is releasing him from his lucrative contract and says he’s over the hill and has lost his edge. Luckily, Brooks has best pal Jeff Bridges (not playing himself) to offer him a way out: a muse. Now, it’s time to suspend your belief…Enter Sharon Stone, playing an elegant, presumptuous, magnanimous dilettante, who offers to ‘inspire’ Brooks to help him regain that valuable edge. Is she a muse or not? She needs to be put up at the Four Seasons, then their guest house, then their bedroom. She has specific dietary requirements. She’s finicky about everything. And while she’s supposed to be helping poor Albert, she’s spending more time with everyone else – including Brooks’ wife, Andie MacDowell!

How much you like this movie will depend on your tolerance of Albert Brooks. He’s still the poor man’s Woody Allen, but his humor can be both dead-on and deadening. Go with the premise, and you’ll be a happier viewer.

Mystery Men (1999) ** The recent trend of transforming comic book characters into feature films has re-proven the long-held belief that Hollywood knows more about staging special effects and glossing over intricacies than it does about script coherency. Add that trend to the trend of having less-than-superheroes as the protagonists of their own films, and you get Mystery Men as a result.

This movie is about the efforts of a disparate group of five ‘heroes’ to thwart an Evil Guy in his attempts to do something-or-other to a fictional city. (It’s conflicts like these that are the staple of many a comic book, aren’t they?) Will our heroes save the day? Is there water in the ocean? Of course they will!

So what kind of heroes do we have? Well, we have Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), whose superpower is that he’s….. well, furious; The Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), who throws his mother’s cutlery and speaks with a British accent, even though he’s neither British nor clad in blue; The Spleen (Paul Reubens), whose flatulence will level people for several yards; The Shoveler (William H. Macy), whose prowess with the titular garden implement is legendary; The Bowler (Janeane Garofalo), who tosses a bowling ball that happens to house the skull of her dead father, himself a noteworthy bowler; and Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell), who only turns invisible if absolutely no one is looking at him at the time.

Let’s face facts here. This is not a complex movie. You know who your good guys are and you know who the bad guy is (Geoffrey Rush, in an ineffectual performance). You might not be entirely clear on what the bad guy wants to accomplish, but who gives a darn anyway? The characters all seem to be having a grand old time, and there’s good chemistry between them (although it would have been nice to see more interplay between Stiller and Garofalo, who have been close friends in real life for a long time).

Bottom line is this: You won’t be offended by much in Mystery Men (unless you can’t stomach fart jokes), but your mind won’t be terribly stimulated, either. All in all, it’s a fair-to-middling kind of movie – the kind that makes you feel a little unsatisfied when it’s over, like maybe it didn’t quite fulfill its potential.

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