The key to any successful ensemble cast is Tom Waits.

I say “successful” with love and bitterness, because Mystery Men was a flop at the box office, because the world (myself included) was ignorant in 1999 and didn’t see it in the theaters. God, it’s funny. It’s the kind of movie that makes your face tired because you’re either smiling or laughing really hard. And the cameos become increasingly more delightful as you watch.

Waits is that special enigma who’s both exactly what you expect and nothing like you expect. He’s got a Keith Richards quality about him, but nerdier — and that’s for the better. He and William H. Macy were my favorite parts of this movie, Waits for the aforementioned magnetism and Macy because he’ll never be without his sincerity, even when he’s playing someone called “The Shoveler.” Ben Stiller is also predictably great and charismatic as Mr. Furious, slightly toward the Zoolander end of his Zoolander-Greg Focker spectrum. And there are plenty more where they come from, because of the aforementioned “ensemble cast” nature of the movie, but I’m not going to mention too many more, because it’s more fun to discover along the way. Suffice it to say that Paul Reubens was the weak spot — and he was still hilarious.

Waits, Macy et al are superhero-types, the absurdities of which are funny on their own but inconsequential enough to be downright precious when put into the context of their world, Champion City. It’s that sincerity that bleeds through the entire movie — they take themselves seriously, but the movie does not, which is an ideal combination for comedy. I only wish more of the killer lines had been distributed evenly among the cast. Anyway, they band together, as superheroes do, to save their city from an evil that they’re pretty underqualified to defeat. It’s a story you’re familiar with, but its details are like no other and its makeup/costuming toes a charming line between kitschy and steampunk.

Go back in time to ’99 and give this one some love. Or, at the very least, appreciate it now. They don’t make ’em like this anymore.

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