Mystery Men (1999): What You Missed and Why it Was Popular in the ‘90s

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What were some of your best comedy films of the 90’s or maybe through the early 2000s? Were you a fan of the likes of Ben Stiller, Janine Garofalo, Hank Azaria, Greg Kinnear, William H. Macy just to mention a few? Do you those names ring a bell? If no, what about the Mystery Men? Yes, the popular ‘90s superhero comedy film. This was one of the few superhero comedies that got me laughing and got me hooked on the screen for hours on end back then.

This week, I thought I should go back in time to the films that really tricked our bones. Those that made us laugh and those that cannot be forgotten because of the epic jokes that they had. Re-watching the Mystery Men this week got my nostalgia juices flowing. I literally had goosebumps while watching it. It reminded me exactly of the events that were taking place when I first saw the film back in the days.

You know that feeling when a simple movie reminds you of all the good (sometimes not good) memories of back in the days. Those were the days when we really didn’t care where our next meal will come from, because it was just there when we needed it. The days when we would spend a whole weekend binging on your favorite show without the fear that you are procrastinating on anthing.
Ohh....those sweet good old days are gone forever, and it hurts! But the good thing is, we still can have a piece of the good days. Watching this show gave me a look and feel of the peaceful ‘90s and early 2000s. Those were the days when the pandemic was only a word in the dictionary and “19” was just an innocent number bordering 18 to the left and 20 to its right!

Anyway, let’s get down to our weekly business. Today we will travel to 1999 when the show Mystery Men landed on our TV screens. This was among the top funny comedy films at the time. I remember watching it with my siblings and laughing almost the whole film. While its reign was short-lived, it still left a mark winning some of the most prestigious awards available back then. I loved the way the show would suddenly go dark and freaky. I guess that explains my love for horror movies.

Mystery Men has been getting a bit of a resurgence over the years, not just because of how strange it is, but I believe it is because of its clever comedic writing style. Let us dig into the evolution of the Mystery Men.

Evolution of the Mystery Men and The Story Behind the Movie
Back in the ‘90s, most of successful animated TV Shows and comedies were marked towards kids. But the mystery men seemed to have struck a balance, as it would appeal to both kids and adults alike. Such popular shows of those times included The Tick , Darkwing Duck, even Blankman was marketed more for teens bac then. So the idea of this great deconstructing of superhero tropes through dark and twisted storytelling wasn’t a thing yet back in the ‘90s. But Mystery Men seems to have turned the table to make it a thing.

The idea of a superhero comedy looking darker and greedier as opposed to bright and colorful is a quality you would see in films like Kick Ass and Watchmen. Even the idea of second-tier superheroes cleaning the mess of the original superheroes has a familiar Invincible Avenger brothers feel to it. Now to the background history of the Show Mystery Men.

Background History of Mystery Men Film

Adapted from Bob Burden’s Flaming Carrot Comics, Kinka Usher (in his feature-length directional debut) and Neil Cuthbert ( in his screenwriting debut) directed and wrote the 1999 American superhero comedy Mystery Men. It starred Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, William H. Macy, Greg Kinnear and Janean Garofalo and was produced by Paul Reubens, Kel Mitchell, Wes Studi and Tom Waits.
The plot revolves around a group of underwhelming superheroes who must band together to save the day. However, Mystery Men was a box office dud, earning just over $33 million worldwide against a budget of more than $68 million. It is Usher’s only directional effort as of 2021.

Mystery Men: The Storyline

Despite their valiant efforts, the amateur superhero team of Mr. Furious, Shoveler, and Blue Raja in Champion City is doomed to failure due to lack of experience, internal strife, and questionable talents. The city's powerful and pompous superhero, Captain Amazing, upstages them as they try to stop a theft in process. Amazing's crime-fighting abilities have made his profession nearly obsolete. His corporate backers are beginning to withdraw support because he does not have any worthy opponents (the most of whom are either dead, exiled, or in prison).
When Casanova Frankenstein is sent into a crazy asylum, Amazing uses his alter ego, millionaire lawyer Lance Hunt, to try and get him out. It backfires when Casanova Frankenstein returns to the asylum with his minion Tony P and his Disco Boys and blows it up; Amazing is easily outwitted by Casanova and he plans to unleash the "Psycho-frakulator" on the city.

Mr. Furious notices Amazing's capture while on a stakeout at Casanova Frankenstein's estate and immediately alerts his crew. After a failed rescue effort, the three realize that they will need extra help. They find the Invisible Boy, the Spleen, and the Bowler through word of mouth and auditions. Casanova's limo is ambushed by the squad, but they only manage to anger him. As they celebrate their "win," Tony P and the Disco Boys nearly kill the team.

The Sphinx, an intriguing superhero who volunteers to train them, saves their lives. The Sphinx's unique team-building exercises and antimetabole rhetoric anger Mr. Furious, who departs the organization, but the other members thrive under his supervision.' Doc Heller, who specializes in non-lethal weapons, is sought out by the group because they know they will still be outgunned. He rejoins the team, spurred on by his new girlfriend, Monica.

They storm Casanova's mansion during a meeting of different gangs, but they mistakenly activate the Psycho-frakulator and kill Captain Amazing. Shoveler offers a motivational speech that brings the squad back together and inspires them to do their best to save the city. The squad returns to the mansion with renewed vigor. When it comes to Casanova Frankenstein's minions, they used surprise, collaboration and Heller's weird weapons to subdue them.

A psycho-frakulator is activated by Casanova Frankenstein, who is holding Monica captive. Mr. Furious takes on Casanova Frankenstein, unleashing his inner wrath and fighting effectively for the first time, as the team seeks to destroy the device. The reality-bending powers of the Psycho-frakulator kill Casanova Frankenstein. Remaining team members assist Bowler in destroying device and fleeing residence.

Cast and Characters of the Mystery Men

Roy (aka. Mr. Furious)

Played by Ben Stiller. His rage was his superpower.

Jeffery (aka. The Blue Raja)
Played by Hank Azaria, he uses cutlery with great accuracy. But he doesn’t use knives.


Shoveler (aka. Eddie)
Was a quarry worker turned superhero that uses a shovel as a weapon.

Carol (aka. The Bowler)
Characterized by Janeane Garofalo. Was a superhero whose crystal bowling ball has the skull of her father who died fighting the Disco Boys. He was called Carmine The Bowler.


Lance Hunt (aka. Captain Amazing) – local city superhero. Played by Greg Kinnear

Invisible Boy - Played by Kel Mitchell. Was a superhero who claimed to become invisible when no one is looking at him.

Dr. Anabel Leek – Played by Lena Olin

Spleen – Played by Paul Reubens. Was a superhero whose flatulence makes others to faint.

Other Cast Included:

  • Geoffrey Rush as Casanova Frankenstein, a criminal genius.
  • Wes Studi as Sphinx, a mysterious superhero who can use his mind to cut firearms in half.
  • Claire Forlani as Monica, a waitress and Roy's love interest.
  • Tom Waits as Doc Heller, a mad scientist who makes non-lethal weapons for the Mystery Men.
  • Eddie Izzard as Tony P, the leader of the Disco Boys.
  • Artie Lange as Big Red
  • Louise Lasser as Violet, Blue Raja's mother.
  • Ricky Jay as Vic Weems, Captain Amazing's publicist.
  • Jenifer Lewis as Lucille, Eddie's wife.
  • Prakazrel Michel as Tony C
  • Goodie Mob as The Not So Goody Mob.
Mystery Men Development and Production

Mystery Men was first offered by Dark Horse Comics publisher Mike Richardson to Universal film producers Larry Gordon and Lloyd Levin in the spring of 1997. A slew of comic book adaptations were announced in mid-97, including:

  • Blade
  • Virus
  • X-Men
  • The Hulk
  • Captain America
  • The Submariner
  • Iron Man
  • Daredevil
Danny DeVito was in negotiations for a 13 million agreement to both start and direct in the fall of that year, but the negotiations broke down over the soundtrack. DeVito said it was a major deal for him. He was then approached to rewrite the script but ultimately turned it down, as well as to direct the film even with the knowledge that it was going to be a big film.
Director Kinka Usher was hired in 1998 to produce commercials. Got Milk? and Taco Bell Chihuahua advertisements had garnered Usher wards. After seeing the script, Usher, who had previously been contracted for other roles, became disillusioned.

In order to secure Stiller’s participation, Garofalo signed on. After meeting Kinka, she decided to take the job because he was kind and amusing and pay was excellent. To get Ben’s attention, the had to be more persuasive. Even though Stiller was offered the Blue Raja part, he turned it down because he didn’t want to paly another nerdy man. The reasoning behind it was that, if you start playing the same role in different films, people will assume they have already watched that.

It will not be something new anymore. To break the monotony in the role of Mr. Furious, he had made some alteration to the script, one of which was to make him less powerful than the other characters. A band analogy would work: The guy who began it and is also the least gifted would be referred to as the ringleader.

After Rush was cast in his first Hollywood movie, Azaria, Reubens, Forlani, and Macy were also cast.Lena Olin, Greg Kinear, and Eddie Izzard were added in August, October, and November, respectively. They were joined by Ving Rhames and Vince Vaughn in the running for positions.

"Reubens," he said "Like the concept. I hadn't seen it before. By the time I arrived, I was enamored with the cast that had already been gathered, and I found the writing to be both clever and silly at the same time." Asked about his personality, he stated, " "On the screen it didn't appear that way at all. I had thought I was playing the part too slowly. That's a mystery to me."

The script, according to Stiller, was easy to follow. "Everyone was constantly rewriting the script! For the same reason everyone wanted to make their bit as humorous as possible. So, thank you for that. Our goal was to make it as humorous as we possibly could by bringing everyone together. If it's a large action or spectacular effects movie, this is especially true.

When it comes to movies, it's easy to forget about character development and tiny moments that are crucial to the success of a film. As a result, we concentrated on that as much as we could. Everyone should be on board with this idea, you know what I'm talking about? And I think Hank, myself and Paul and Janeane were probably most involved in that process, for our characters. This is how we've done things for a long time."

"Usher said," "It was full of unplanned activities. I released Ben and Janeane. They were totally free." Usher said he wanted "the film to look flat, like a comic book. I tried to capture that alternate reality but keep the edgy humor."

Shooting began on October 21, 1998 in Los Angeles, and was completed the following April. "I thought it would be quick, but it ended up being this six month shoot," Stiller recalled.

Bob Burden was on the set for some of the shoot, answering questions that came up about his creations. "There were times when we were kind of stumped in a scene and we asked him what he thought," Levin said. "The great thing about him is that 10 minutes later, we'd get 30 pages in the fax machine with probably 29 pages filled with the lousiest ideas that you've ever read but that one page of pure genius."

The original ending was unpopular with test audiences, so Usher shot a new one with what he called "a big-cheer finish."

Final Thoughts

I wouldn’t mind watching a sequel of the Mystery Men. I think most of the superheroes still had some untold stories. Plus the movie had a big suspense that can only be made into a sequel or even a series with several storylines splitting from the main plot. It feel this will appeal to the Generation Z today.

What is your memories of this show? Did you watch it back then?

Would you wish to have it back on the screens today?