Michael Bay Didn't Have Much Fun Playing A Frat Boy For Mystery Men

Easily one of the best films of 1999, Kinka Usher's "Mystery Men" deconstructed the superhero genre before the genre was even ascendant in cinema. Coming only a year after "Blade" and a year before "X-Men," "Mystery Men," based on the works of Bob "The Flaming Carrot" Burden, told the story of outsider superheroes who never got the publicity or the exciting action of the world's more "mainstream" superhero, Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear). Instead, they fought crime with slightly more bizarre crimefighting gimmicks: Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller) got really mad. The Blue Raja (Hank Azaria) threw forks. The Shoveler (William H. Macy) could shovel, well, very well. God gave him a gift. They were later joined by The Bowler (Janeanne Garofalo) who owned a mystical bowling ball with her father's skull inside of it, The Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell) who could only turn invisible when no one was looking, The Sphinx (Wes Studi) who could, like, cut guns in half with his mind or something, and The Spleen (Paul Reubens) who could fart with deadly accuracy. 

Captain Amazing has been so good at his job, there are no supervillains left to conquer and his job is becoming moribund (he's losing corporate sponsors). In order to beef up his profile, Amazing — as his secret identity, Lance Hunt ± releases his archrival Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) from a mental hospital, only to be immediately kidnapped. It's up to the Mystery Men to save the day. 

In the scenes leading to "Mystery Men's" climax, Casanova Frankenstein has gathered all of the local villain groups still operating to announce his plot to take over the world. Among the supervillain teams is a pack of evil frat boys called, well, the Frat Boys, still on probation for lethal hazing. Phi Zeta! Sitting in the middle of the Frat Boys is their presumed leader, a grinning, well-coiffed man who asks Casanova if they can bring brewskis into his evil lab. The Frat Boy leader was none other than action filmmaker Michael Bay. What a fun cameo. 

It turns out, however, that Bay did not have fun acting in his cameo. When one is used to directing, it's hard to let others do their jobs. 

What he really wanted to do was direct

"Mystery Men" was, in fact, Bay's fourth credit as an actor. He had previously appeared in an episode of "Miami Vice" as "Goon #3," and he cameoed as a SLED Agent in a 1986 TV movie called "Vengeance: The Story of Tony Cimo." He also appeared on camera as a NASA scientist in his own 1998 film "Armageddon." None of these roles required a lot in the way of acting chops. The leader of The Frat Boys didn't necessarily either, but he did have one notable closeup wherein he asked about the brewskis. He needed to be in costume, and he needed to sit in a large group of other actors while taking cues from Rush, who was prone to improv. And he had to — horror of horrors — take direction from someone else, who used cameras he didn't like. He even called cut on himself. In a 1999 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Bay described his "Mystery Men" experience in less than glowing terms: 

"Geoffrey Rush started improvising, and I said my line at the wrong point and then I go 'Cut! I f***ed that up.' And then [director Kinka Usher] was shooting me with this wide thing in front of my nostrils. I was like, 'You cannot put me on film with that piece-of-s*** lens.'"

Bay also got to experience, firsthand, how much waiting around in trailers actors have to do. He was so put off by the experience, he made himself a promise: 

"I sat in my trailer so bored. There was nothing in the fridge. There was a bed slipcover with no sheet. From now on in every movie I direct there are going to be video games, a fully stocked fridge, and videos of all my past movies."

It would be interesting to hear if Yahya Abdul-Mateen II or Jake Gyllenhaal, while working on "Ambulance," were watching "Transformers: Age of Extinction" and playing "Yo! Noid" in their trailers in between their scenes. 

Mystery Men after all

"Mystery Men" was, according to the actors, a very loose affair. Usher knew he had a cast of funny, improvisational actors, and would let them take control of certain scenes. Usher also reportedly changed the ending to be more conventionally rah-rah. And "Mystery Men" does feel pliable, with small moments of conversational comedy worked into the gloriously overdesigned sets and Gen-X-whatever/whirligig action. The film was met with only a warm critical response at the time, but has shown up on the midnight movie circuit since. To this critic's eye, it's one of the funniest comedies of the 1990s, and one of the best superhero films ever made. Yes, I said that. 

Because of the wild overproduction, the shoot ended up lasting six months. Bob Burden, the original author of the Mysterymen, offered new ideas throughout, and the script was rewritten constantly. 

This kind of loosey-goosey production must have driven Michael Bay up the wall. His films tend to be action spectaculars with a particular focus on technicals and cameras. If you've seen any of Bay's movies, you'll note that his scripts are not necessarily the most important part of the production. Working in such a milieu made Bay very uncomfortable, and he was unhappy. 

At least he can say he was involved in one of the best films in a genre, and his cameo as an evil Frat Boy communicates to the audience that he might have a sense of humor about his popular image as the ultra-masculine, kaboom-kaboom guy. Bay has gone back primarily to directing, occasionally appearing in cameos or playing himself, and trying out new camera drones. I assume he brought the brewskis.