"Dying is easy; comedy is hard,” whispered a perceptive actor on his deathbed. No wonder moviegoers appreciate a good comedy when they see it! For me, two back-to-back comedies released in 1999 symbolize the difference between what works and what doesn’t. While Mystery Men and Bowfinger both originated from promising concepts, only one delivers the goods.
Even with a super cast like Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, William Macy, Geoffrey Rush and Greg Kinnear, the slow-moving Mystery Men falters in its attempt to spoof comic book heroes. Imaginative sets, intriguing weapons (such as a “blame thrower”), and dazzling special effects can’t save this clunker about a group of wannabe superheroes out to save a city and Captain Amazing, their role model. Still, viewers who find flatulence laughable might be bowled over by a pitiful character played by Paul Reubens (aka PeeWee Herman). And Kinnear’s humorous sendup of Superman does liven up some scenes. Too bad he has so little time on camera. Clearly, Mystery Men is not the amusing movie I expected. It evokes very few laughs -- and that’s the most important element missing here.
On the other hand, Bowfinger boasts hilarity and uproarious mayhem throughout. It pairs veteran funnymen Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy, who pull out all the stops to please their fans. Martin also wrote the creative script about Bobby Bowfinger (his role in the movie), a sleazy filmmaker who believes he has one last chance at success. Murphy, better than ever here, gets to play two parts -- Hollywood’s hottest action hero and his nerdy twin. When Bowfinger’s unscrupulous plans to make a movie starring the self-absorbed actor fall apart, he involves the star’s goofy, innocent brother in a scam that will enable him to complete his film. Heather Graham and Christine Baranski also contribute their talents to this screwball funfest. Graham portrays a starlet who will sleep with anyone to get ahead, and Baranski is an aging actress yearning for comeback. Both actresses bring a welcome freshness to their interpretations of these showbiz stereotypes.
Although Bowfinger comes across more like a series of wacky incidents than a coherent movie, it’s a non-stop comic ride through the weird wonderland of Hollywood. Amusing sight gags, witty dialogue, and great slapstick stunts add to the fun. Mystery Men, in contrast, ends up as a chore to sit through.
Universal Pictures, celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year (2012), released both offerings. Regardless of my disappointment with Mystery Men, I want to congratulate Universal for its many wonderful comedies since 1912 -- including Bowfinger.
(Both films are rated “PG-13” by MPAA.)