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The Lens: Who is that 'Mystery Man'?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon - Nov. 14, 2009 - Remember "Mystery Men," the 1999 comedy about a handful of misfit superheroes played by Ben Stiller, Paul Reubens, Greg Kinnear, William Macy and Janeane Garafolo? Occasionally funny but also long-winded, the film's most memorable quality, to judge from the most repeated comment in reviews, was that it was a heavy-handed imitation/parody/pastiche of Tim Burton's "Batman" films. Imagine how director Kinka Usher, best known for TV commercials (including the "Taco Bell" ads with a talking chihuahua) must have felt when one review after another cast him in the shadow of the director of "Beetlejuice" and "Edward Scissorhands."

Reading a recent biography of musician and occasional actor Tom Waits, who played a weapon designer in "Mystery Men," I was a bit surprised to find this brief passage:

" 'I don't know why I agreed to do this' he said of the part in super-hero spoof 'Mystery Men,' directed by Tim Burton under the pseudonym Kinka Usher, 'Except [Burton] made the whole thing sound like a softball game'."

Is Kinka Usher just a hoax? You'd think that in 10 years, the secret would have leaked, but surprisingly a quick internet search revealed that out of 360 gazillion references to Burton online, the only thing linking him to "Mystery Men" was this brief article : And how do you think Burton - who will be honored with a major retrospective and exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art later this month - felt when he read that he had failed to do a passable imitation of himself?

The Lens is the Blog of Cinema St. Louis, hosted by the Beacon.