Mystery Men


Skull bowling has never really taken off as a recreational sport.

Skull bowling has never really taken off as a recreational sport.

(1999) Superhero (Universal) Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, Geoffrey Rush, Hank Azaria, Janeane Garofalo, Paul Reubens, Kel Mitchell, Greg Kinnear, Wes Studi, Lena Olin, Eddie Izzard, Artie Lange, Prakazrel Michel, Claire Forlani, Tom Waits, Emmy Laybourne . Directed by Kinka Usher

If you have had enough of brooding Dark Knights, angsty-but-noble Spider-Men or of Too-Good-To-Be-True Men of Steel, here are the other guys, the kinds of heroes that would probably show up to save OUR day.

Mr. Furious (Stiller), known for his legendary rages, leads a trio of what local cops contemptuously call wannabes, rounded out by the Shoveller (Macy), the straight man who says modestly “we just fight crime…call it what you will” and the obtuse Blue Raja (Azaria), who speaks in a phony British accent and has not a speck of the color blue in his costume. He throws silverware with uncanny accuracy, although he has trouble flinging knives which is one the things that makes Mr. Furious so hopped-up mad.

When this trio of do-gooders attempt to save an old-folks home from robbery, they wind up having the crap kicked out of them only to be rescued by Captain Amazing (Kinnear), Champion City’s legitimate superhero. It seems Amazing has done his work too well, and there are no real battles left for him to fight. So when his arch-nemesis Casanova Frankenstein (Rush) is released from the asylum, Amazing hopes for the kind of apocalyptic battle that will bring the Captain’s sinking stock back to the fore. So when Amazing is captured by his mortal enemy, there’s nobody left to save the day except…you guessed it.

Realizing they are woefully overmatched, they try to recruit some additional firepower (which leads to the Superhero Audition, one of the best scenes in the movie). They wind up with the Spleen (Reubens), whose incapacitating gasses are best left undescribed, the Invisible Kid (Kel Mitchell) who can only turn invisible when nobody’s watching, the Sphinx (Studi) who utters semi-mystical phrases of meaningless babble (sample; “If you do not master your rage, your rage will master you”) and the Bowler (Garofalo), who keeps her father’s skull in her bowling ball and carries on conversations with her departed dad that blur the line between neurotic and psychotic but settle into a kind of Jewish angst.

The odds are against them as they find themselves some weapons (which mainly don’t work) and get themselves some snazzy new costumes which do. However, with their backs to the wall they still refuse to walk away, knowing that this fight could very well be their last.

Usher tries way too hard to turn this into a roller coaster ride of comedy and action, winding up with something that tain’t one thing nor t’other. There are car chases and fight scenes, but mostly played with a wink. The set design is memorable, sort of a cross between Gotham City and the overlooked sci-fi flick Dark City. There are a lot of terrific running jokes; only Mr. Furious seems to notice the remarkable resemblance between Captain Amazing and his alter ego, for example. Note the corporate sponsorships on the uniform of Captain Amazing, for another – sort of like a European soccer uniform or a NASCAR suit.

This is definite eye candy, highly entertaining eye candy at that. The action sequences aren’t half bad although they are played with a definite wink.  The cast is formidable, with some of the most underrated talents in Hollywood. Superhero parodies have not traditionally sold well in the comic book store, and this one certain didn’t bust down the box office bank. Still, if you want to get away from the usual suspects of Marvel and DC superheroes, here is the kind of movie that will keep the parents entertained without having their kids squirming in their seats.

WHY RENT THIS: Magnificent eye candy. An alternative from the usual superhero fare. Some fine performances, particularly from Macy, Stiller, Kinnear, Studi and Garofalo.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Comedy and action sequences sometimes clash. A little neurotic in places.

FAMILY MATTERS: Some rather crude jokes and a bit of comic book violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The comic book from which this originated was began as a spin-off from the Flaming Carrot comic books but only Mr. Furious, the Spleen and the Shoveller made it from the book to the film (the Bowler, Invisible Kid and Blue Raja are all new characters developed for the film). The Sphynx is a Golden Age character in the public domain and Captain Amazing is a substitute for the Flaming Carrot whom producers thought was too bizarre a character for a mainstream Hollywood film.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There’s a featurette on the origin of the comic book series and a couple of music videos.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $33.5M on a $68M production budget; the movie was an unqualified flop.

STATION WAGON LOVERS: The Shoveller’s car is an early AMC Rebel.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: This is 40

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Beer for My Horses


Beer for my Horses

Toby Keith and compadres contemplate the next Ford truck commercial.

(Roadside Attractions) Toby Keith, Rodney Carrington, Barry Corbin, Claire Forlani, Ted Nugent, Greg Serano, Tom Skerritt, Gina Gershon, Willie Nelson, Carlos Sanz. Directed by Michael Salomon

I’m not the target audience for this movie, not by a long stretch. I’m not a big lover of country music, although I do admire the relationship between the performers and their fans. However, my neck is not nearly red enough to really immerse myself in country culture.

Toby Keith doesn’t have that problem. His neck is as red as the American flag…the white and the blue probably appear elsewhere on his person too. He drives a Ford pickup. He sings songs about drinking and raising hell. Good ol’ boy? Goddamn, he’s a good ol’ MAN. If you shoot him with anything lower than a .45, the bullets just bounce off.

He plays Rack Racklin, a fun-loving Oklahoma sheriff whose girlfriend Cammie (Gershon) has just taken a powder. Don’t worry, though; his ex-girlfriend Annie (Forlani) is back in town and you can tell they’re destined to be together because she’s totally less bitchy than Cammie although their names rhyme, sort of.

Rack arrests Tito Garza (Serano), a Mexican drug kingpin who has been bringing in meth that is turning the little town into a crap factory. Tito’s brother (Sanz) doesn’t like that much, and kidnaps Annie so that he can trade her for his brother – after which he’ll shoot anything white that isn’t floating in a tequila bottle. Mexicans are ornery that way – just ask Toby Keith.

The sheriff (Skerritt) wants to play it cool but Rack isn’t taking no for an answer. He rounds up his best friend, Deputy Lonnie Feldman (Carrington) and the silent but deadly bowhunter Skunk (Nugent – yes, that Ted Nugent) to head down to Mexico and save the girl. And shoot some Mexicans. For a redneck, that’s a party.

Where do I start? Keith is amiable enough as the lead. Most of the first part of the movie is a light-hearted comedy, but it turns into Rambo about halfway through and more or less stays there until the last scene. The change isn’t particularly smooth and it feels like you’re driving a Ford F-150 with transmission problems on a dirt road with lots of potholes. Once the movie gets to Walking Tall, Keith seems a bit lost as the tough guy.

The comedy is just plain bad. Carrington is actually an excellent performer, but here he seems to have gone to the Hee Haw school of acting and his character of Lonnie seems to have come straight out of an episode of The Dukes of Hazard. I don’t think I even broke a smile at a single joke.

There are some pretty good actors in the movie but one gets the feeling that they took one look at the script, cashed the check as quickly as they could and phoned in their performances. There’s no energy and no life visible anywhere in the movie. It’s just a bunch of actors going through the motions or at least it appeared that way to me. Maybe it was just a bad day, but even Da Queen, normally much more generous to actors than I am, was begging me to turn off the movie.

Nope, I stuck through the whole thing and the strange thing is there really is a movie in here somewhere, just not this one. I think that given the right material, Keith could be a movie star the same as Tim McGraw is now. Unfortunately, this isn’t the right material for anyone. Except for maybe the Nuge. He only gets to say two words (for the record, the two are “Circus Jolly” at the end of the movie) and the rest of the time, he just shoots things with his bow, the riff from “Cat Scratch Fever” coming on every time he cocks his weapon. That’s pretty much how I’ve always imagined Ted Nugent to be.

WHY RENT THIS: Ummm…ummm…I’m thinking…no, that’s not it.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Poor script, poor acting, and poor pacing…it’s just not all that good.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of violence, some crude language and humor, brief nudity and a little bit of drug content. Probably safe for most teens and mature kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although set in Oklahoma (and the Jackson County shoulder flashes for the deputies are authentic), the movie was actually filmed in New Mexico.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $666,045 on an unreported production budget; I think it’s safe to say the movie lost money.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The Informant!

Mister Foe (Hallam Foe)


Mister Foe

Hallam Foe likes to watch.

(Magnolia) Jamie Bell, Ciaran Hines, Claire Forlani, Ruthie Milne, John Paul Lawler, Lucy Holt, Sophia Myles, Jamie Sives, Maurice Roeves. Directed by David Mackenzie

Sometimes a lead character can be someone you wouldn’t want to spend time with ordinarily, at least on the surface. The mark of a good movie, though, is that you are still enthralled by that character despite not liking them much.

That’s what happened to me in this movie. Scottish youth Hallam Foe (Bell) is still mourning his mum, drowned in the local loch. His dad (Hines) has married Verity (Forlani) who was once his secretary. All three of them live in a large house in the Scottish borders along with Hallam’s sister Lucy (Holt). While mum’s death was ruled an accident, Hallam remains convinced that she was murdered by Verity, whose marriage to his dad seemed a bit too convenient by half.

The shock of his mum’s death has made Hallam, well, a little bit weird. When he feels stressed he puts on a badger hat and paints his face with lipstick, eyeliner and eye shadow in a kind of war paint and when he’s really stressed he puts on one of his mum’s old dresses. He also has a habit to spy on his neighbors and family, particularly when they are having sex. Yes, he’s a Peeping Tom.

After Verity and Hallam have sex in the treehouse Hallam’s architect dad built for him, Verity forces Hallam to leave so that dad doesn’t find out. Hallam runs away to Edinburgh where he finds a peeper’s paradise. He finds a home in a rooftop clock, menial work in a hotel where he is stunned to find that the human resources manager Kate (Myles) is the spittin’ image of his dear departed mum. So he watches her sleep and have sex with a brutal married manager (Sives), eventually taking up a relationship with her himself.

However, he is full of problems and his rage towards his father for marrying whom he considers to be the murderer of his mother needs an outlet. Soon Hallam’s world begins to come crashing down around his ears.

This was a movie that could easily have been as unlikable as the lead character seemed to be on paper, but as it turns out it wasn’t. That’s a credit both to director Mackenzie, whose light touch kept the movie from spiraling into indie angst, and to actor Bell who delivers a nuanced performance that keeps Hallam sympathetic even as he’s doing unsympathetic things. Bell, who first gained notice in Billy Elliott, is growing as an actor by leaps and bounds. This is a role that he may not be necessarily remembered for, but one that will build his reputation among those who can take his career further. That’s not a bad thing to say.

The supporting cast doesn’t let him down either. Myles, who has quite the baby face, delivers a performance of great depth, bringing a very complicated character to life in a believable way. Hinds, one of the most dependable character actors out there, gets to stretch a little bit as a man who is very cold on the outside that is hiding a great deal of pain on the inside, while Forlani gives “cast iron bitch” a whole new spin.

The soundtrack contains a goodly number of Scottish indie bands, from the Orange Juice on up to more contemporary bands such as Franz Ferdinand and Four Tet. Still, the band has that kind of indie smugness in places, getting a little too clever in its presentation for its own good.

This is one of those movies that is solid, entertaining in its own way but more successful as a human study. The insight into a troubled soul can be dark and scary, but Mister Foe makes it a little bit less so; in fact, it makes it downright desirable.

WHY RENT THIS: An affecting performance by Bell with plenty of great support, particularly from Myles, Forlani and Hines. A tremendous soundtrack with plenty of superb Scottish indie bands, too.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sometimes the movie is too clever for its own good.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of sexuality here including some fairly twisted stuff. Quite frankly this should be for adult audiences only.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is based on a novel by Peter Jinks.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The End of the Line