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MYSTERY MEN

On Location
Walking into cavernous Stage 27 on the Universal Pictures lot was the beginning of a trip to a parallel universe

Walking into cavernous Stage 27 on the Universal Pictures lot was the beginning of a trip to a parallel universe. Everything looked familiar enough at first glance: a tranquil park-like setting complete with trees, statues and cobblestone walkway leading to a comfortable English style country home. But, of course, the devil was in the details.

A closer look revealed that the statues in the garden were virtually Picassos in 3-D. Then there was the Armored Personnel Carrier sitting in the foyer of the country home amid some rubble that used to be the door! And inside, the Library was a place where an eccentric Mad Scientist could have blissfully whiled away countless hours; loaded with primitive vacuum tube electronic gizmos, a mummy, wacky semi-sado-masochistic artifacts, a "Hemodimagnometer" with a lot of dials and a stuffed duck in a miniature dentist's chair. A final touch was the Disco down the hall. A gigantic mirrored ball hung from the ceiling of a room dripping with decadent velvet opulence.

No doubt about it: this had to be the abode of that villain of villains Casanova Frankenstein, and Stage 27 was indeed the set of Universal Pictures' upcoming ensemble action comedy Mystery Men. "Day 70 of 75" on the production schedule was about to begin.

Based on the Dark Horse comic, Mystery Men is the story of seven less-than-super hero wannabes who rise to the occasion when Champion City, their mythical hometown where superheroes are an accepted fact of life, is threatened.

"This is a world that embraces the idea that superheroes exist," explains Lloyd Levin, who produces Mystery Men along with Lawrence Gordon and Dark Horse Comics head Mike Richardson. "In our world, you'd be mocked if you believed in superheroes. Here in Champion City, superheroes are taken for granted, you'd be mocked only if you were a lame superhero. The 'Mystery Men' are just likable, normal guys who want to be superheroes and fight evil. . . Ordinary Champion City citizens."

Their big chance comes when Champion City's beloved real superhero/protector, Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear), disappears. The wannabe heroes square off against the vile Casanova Frankenstein (Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush) and his beautiful sidekick, Dr. Anabel Leek (Lena Olin), as they try to thwart his dastardly plot to take over the city. But the biggest obstacle the Mystery Men must overcome is themselves; their powers are not exactly imposing by normal superhero standards.

As producer Mike Richardson describes, "They are the people that you don't ever notice. If you think about it, there are many people in the world that have special talents. Maybe there is someone who can open a bottle of catsup really fast, but it is not really a good super power for a superhero. These guys are just one step above that. They are guys who really want to be superheroes, but they don't really get any respect. If there is a crime scene and they show up, they're held behind the line with the other bystanders and asked to move along, even if they are in costumes."

Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), their leader, is prone to eye-popping fits of rage, but little more. Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), master of silverware, is occasionally a good shot with a fork or spoon, but would never throw a knife; Shoveler (William T. Macy) is highly skilled with his implement; Bowler (Janeane Garofalo) is an expert with the ball and on a mission to avenge the murder of her father, Carmine t

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