With all apologies to Mike Meyers (and Russ Meyer!), this is Judge Christopher Kulik's happening...and it freaks him out!
Our reviews of Austin Powers In Goldmember (published November 25th, 2002), Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery (published September 19th, 2000), and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (published November 20th, 1999) are also available.
The colorful superspy who put the grrr in "swinger" has finally made his Blu-ray debut courtesy of New Line Cinema. But does it contain enough mojo for a consumer upgrade?
Facts of the Case
International Man Of Mystery: In the film that started it all, a man named Austin Powers (Mike Myers, Wayne's World) is working for British Intelligence while at the same time shagging as many women as possible in the free-love era of the late 1960s. Just when he's about to nab his arch-nemesis Dr. Evil (Myers again), the megalomaniac makes his escape and freezes himself for 30 years. The head of MI-6, Basil Expedition (Michael York, Cabaret), arranges for Powers to be frozen and thawed out in the year 199. Armed with his 9mm Automatic, a drop-dead gorgeous assistant named Vanessa Kensington (Elizabeth Hurley, Bedazzled) and his Swedish penis-enlarger pump ("This is my bag, baby!"), Powers is more than ready to thwart Dr. Evil's dastardly plan to drill down to the Earth's core.
The Spy Who Shagged Me: After being forced back into outer space, Dr. Evil seeks revenge at Austin Powers for compromising his plans for world domination. The evil doctor decides to hire a Scottish bagpipe player named Fat Bastard (Myers again)—so named because he weighs a metric ton—to travel back in time and steal Austin's mojo while he's cryogenically frozen. Basil comes to Austin's rescue with a Shaguar time machine, enabling him to go back to 1969, where he hooks up with a Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham, From Hell), an aggressively amorous CIA agent who is disappointed with Powers' impotence, but more than willing to help him nail Dr. Evil, get Austin's mojo back, then hop on the bed and do the bad thing.
Goldmember: With Austin Powers 10 Minutes From Now and Felicity finally consummating their relationship in 1999, we now jump forward to 2002, where Steven Spielberg and a number of A-list Hollywood stars are making a movie about Austin Powers' life . Meanwhile, Dr. Evil has moved his evil organization to the Hollywood hills; his new plan: hire a Dutch assassin named Goldmember (Meyers) to steal Austin's fahzhaa (Michael Caine, The Dark Knight). In the midst of all this, Dr. Evil's test-tube son Scott (Seth Green, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) decides he wants to turn evil, forcing the evil doctor to fire his personal little clone Mini-Me (Verne Troyer, The Love Guru). As for Austin, he wants to earn Daddy's respect, so he travels back to 1975 and hooks up with former flame Foxxy Cleopatra (Beyonce Knowles, Dreamgirls) to assist.
The year 1997 marked two unprecedented events: the cinematic introduction of a shagadelic spy known only as Austin Powers; and, the high school graduation of yours truly. I still vividly remember that warm, crisp day in which I plunked down $6.50 to watch Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery, despite the fact I had no idea what I was in store for. I liked Myers in the Wayne's World films and even his mellow So I Married An Axe Murderer, and yet, I never saw him on SNL. Still, I was hoping for something special and it was: a colorful, refreshingly funny take on the 1960s spy film, with the James Bond films given a cheeky beating. Who would have known that such ostensibly ridiculous things as pinky-finger-to-the-lips gestures and a million different ways of saying "shhh!" would been imitated in our modern culture?
Myers was inspired to create the character and film because of his father Eric, who was British and a devotee of such 60s spies as James Bond and Our Man Flint. As silly as it was, International Man Of Mystery worked because it just seemed to come out at the right time. For one thing, the year before we saw another Bond spoof (Spy Hard) fail miserably, despite having ultimate spoof machine Leslie Nielson as the star. Secondly, the Bond series at the time was given a revamp with Pierce Brosnan, and by the end of the decade it had reached its nadir, with the excruciatingly awful The World Is Not Enough. The fact that The Spy Who Shagged Me made almost twice as much more green at the box office was a clear indication the audience was more open to a Bond spoof than the real thing. True, International Man Of Mystery didn't find success until it was shown on cable and home video, but within a few years it became a major cult favorite.
I can't go so far in saying that Myers and director Jay Roach struck comic gold with the first Austin Powers movie. Seeing it again after several years made me realize how stupid many of the gags are, most notably the sequence with Tom Arnold and Austin's attempts to get a grip on '90s culture. It holds up surprisingly well, with the Sega and Nike Pump references being the only items that truly date it. The problem with Myers' script lies in the fact that the spy is a one-joke creation with mostly off-color milieu. We know he has sex on the brain all the time when he isn't concerned with Dr. Evil, and we know he emerged as a rebelling swinger, taking on a villain who preferred the 60s notion of world domination; as Dr. Evil says, "there's nothing more pathetic than an aging hipster!" And, yet, Austin Powers is also hard to dislike, and even I can't deny I'd love to party with him in his shag-pad (in a non-sexual way, of course!). Still, Dr. Evil as a character kicks Powers' ass in the funny department. In a brilliant parody of Donald Pleasance's Blofeld from You Only Live Twice, Myers is having a improvisational blast as the megalomaniac who will not tolerate failure.
Even if Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery stops well short of being laugh-out-loud, side-splittingly hilarious, there is plenty of production values to savor. My favorite are the snazzy, richly colorful costumes (courtesy of Deena Appel, who would work on the entire trilogy), which are adequate enough eye candy to dodge all the lame jokes in the margins. There is also great support from Cynthia Charette's expansive, layered production design as well as Peter Deming's deliciously bright cinematography. Also fun is the snappy music score courtesy of George S. Clinton, with some choice tunes courtesy of Myers' band Ming Tea, Quincy Jones, the Strawberry Alarm Clock and, of course, the great Burt Bacharach. So, yes, I actually prefer the film on an artistic level rather than a comic one, although I do admit it has its fair share of laughs. They are just spread out among the 90-minute running time, that's all.
One thing Myers was also blessed with was a highly talented cast—not to mention some bodacious babes. As the "Powers Girl" this time around, Elizabeth Hurley is much better on an acting level than her followers, as she actually does more than just stand around and look sexy for the camera. Besides, we have the euphemistically-named Alotta Fagina (Fabiana Udenio, RoboCop 2) and Elizabeth's on-screen mother Mimi Rogers (Lost In Space) to round out the roster. Veterans Robert Wagner (as Number Two) and Michael York are delightful in their superior roles, and even the usually-grating Will Ferrell garners some laughs as a wacky assassin named Mustafa. Aside from Myers, however, the one standout is Seth Green, who's perfectly tip-top as Dr. Evil's rebellious, juvenile son Scott, who won't forgive his father for neglecting him all his life. Unfortunately, none of the cameos this time around are particularly memorable (Tom Arnold and Carrie Fisher are both seriously wasted), but the deleted footage yields a couple of surprise appearances by Rob Lowe (who would appear later as the younger version of Number Two in the sequels), and Lois Chiles, who is better known as Bond girl Dr. Goodhead in Moonraker.
Two years later, Myers, Roach and most of the original cast would return for the smash hit sequel Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. The title is a clever play on the '77 bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, but my favorite title change would happen in the Norwegian version, which altered the subtitle to The Spy Who Ejaculated On Me. Yes, I'm pretty much with the majority that the sequel doesn't top its predecessor—except when it came to the number of laughs. Indeed, I chuckled (wildly many times) much more throughout Spy, not necessarily because of the increase in toilet humor, but because Myers (along with co-writer Michael McCullers) took more risks and outrageous turns. The biggest—or smallest, if you wish—evidence of this is the creation of Mini-Me, played with mute irresistibility by 2'8" Verne Troyer. He primarily worked before as a Hollywood stuntman, and that training must have been valuable during the heinous fight scene between him and Myers (as Powers) on the Dr. Evil's Moon lair. The other additional character is, erm, Fat Bastard, who takes obesity and cannibalism (he has an appetite for babies) to gross extremes; in short, you either love him or loathe him.
Comedy-wise, anybody that makes fun of Starbucks and Jerry Springer gets thumbs up from me. Sure, some of the same gags are repeated and others are so downright disgusting (nutty excrement, anyone?), but there's also some inspired gems as well. When I was in the theater, the laughter was deafening during the "Just the Two of Us" musical number, and any sequence which develops the conflict between Scott and Dr. Evil (along with Mini-Me) is guaranteed chortles in any form. Complimenting the jokes are another fine selection of sexy women, including a slightly unrecognizable, sensationally buxom Kristen Johnston (3rd Rock From The Sun) as Ivana Humpalot, the Russian model who knows how to play chess. And Heather Graham, fresh off her tantalizing turn as Rollergirl in Boogie Nights, gives the appropriate look and seductive draw as Felicity Shagwell, my favorite of all the "Powers Girls." You don't agree? Uh…ZIP IT!
By the time we get to Goldmember, the series goes a bit limp. The movie definitely has its moments (such as the opening sequence which is crammed with celebrity cameos), but much of the material isn't original and even the energy of the cast seems to have waned. With the addition of the legendary Michael Caine (playing Austin's dad), you'd think the series would be given a groovy jolt of maturity and professionalism, but instead the multiple Oscar-winner sinks to the script's grade-school level. Still, he seems to be having fun under the circumstances, gleefully walking off the set with a nice little check. As for the character of Goldmember (obviously a rip on Gert Frobe's classic villain), he's more pyrite than Au; in other words, he's funny in concept but not in execution, with a string of unfunny smoke-and-pancake jokes as well as an addiction to consuming his epidermis which is repeated much too often. Myers does a good job, and I love the look of the character, but the guy still comes off as sick and forced. The return of Fat Bastard doesn't help a bit, and the whole sequence in Japan barely registers a laugh.
However, Goldmember is consistent with the other films in terms of the glorious production design and costumes. The disco sequence, especially, is chock full of '70s colors and attitudes, and the huge budget contributed immensely to the lavish proceedings. Like the original, the weak comedy is compensated by the sheer look, scope, and detail of the entire production: a real pleasure for the eyes and ears. However, there are some questionable elements, particularly in the casting…and, yes, I'm referring to Beyonce Knowles, who is horribly miscast despite her hot bod and brown suga vibe. Hurley and Graham hardly gave great performances, but Knowles' screen inexperience repeatedly screams out, rendering the 21-year-old diva as amateurish. It's funny that's she's trying to imitate Pam Grier, especially when Pam herself would have whooped her ass and sent her to an acting class. In fact, there's a real question for Roach: why didn't you hire Pam Grier? She would have been awesome, perfect, shagadelic, etc. Hey, Jay, you seriously didn't see Jackie Brown? Geez!
Most fans of the series are no doubt clamoring to hear how the films look on Blu-ray, and here's the answer: the first two are just a few notches below of being exceptionally pristine and flawless, while the third certainly is. Because of the endlessly vivid chromatics, the Austin Powers films are ideal for high def, and it clearly shows; the details are so good you can even see the nuts in Fat Bastard's liquid hot shit. Flesh tones are sharp and none of the colors bleed or smear. All three films are presented in 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic, 1080p widescreen using a VC-1 codec, and while the first film has small amounts of grain and softness and the second a couple of minute blemishes, everything is as visually wonderful as can be. All of the discs have super, highly satisfactory audio tracks in TrueHD and 5.1 Surround, with Spy getting additional stereo tracks in Spanish and Portuguese and Goldmember getting an alternate Spanish track, with assigned subtitles in all those languages according to said sonic options. Hardly any hisses, pops, or unwarranted background noise was detected, with terrific front speaker action as the music and songs are being played.
Alright! Throw me a frickin' bonus here…
Now, we come to the cream of the crop for die-hard fans: The extras, which have all been ported over from the original DVDs. Each movie has a commentary with Mike Myers & Jay Roach, with co-writer Michael McCullers (Baby Mama) joining in on The Spy Who Shagged Me. The first movie has a healthy, if unspectacular, selection of deleted scenes, two alternate endings, and the original theatrical trailer. The second goes even further with a butt-load of deleted scenes (over 20 minutes worth), a series of production featurettes, a Comedy Central special showcasing Dr. Evil's story, four music videos, and several trailers. Things go even further with Goldmember's bonus blitz, including more of everything the other two films had, including special attention paid to everything from F/X, stunts, fashion, and the actor's approach to their respective characters. The commentaries are quite good, yielding both fun and info, while everything else seems to be overkill, particularly on the Goldmember front. Still, practically every base is covered and fans should be satisfied.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I give New Line credit for putting all these discs in glossy, ultrathin blue cases and a nice cardboard case to match. However, the studio trips up by not releasing these films separately, which will turn off some consumers. It's reasonable to assume that if you like one you'll like the others enough to pick them up together, but there are still purists who will feel otherwise.
The lack of Blu-exclusive bonus features is also a letdown. The one contribution is Focus Points, which includes a fact track you can play while watching a movie, as well as potpourri contained in gold-disc icons which appear at the left hand corner of the screen. For example, the opening F/X sequence includes interviews from the skydivers and motorcyclists, which you can watch with the film paused. Among other things, you also get to see trailers, music videos, and even historical info on MI-6. Sounds all good, but in truth much of this—or rather, all of it—is lifted from the already existing bonus features! So, basically you get the choice between watching all of them during the movie or separately; that, my friends, is one of the biggest jokes contained in Goldmember.
According to several online sources, Myers is currently working on getting an Austin Powers 4 off the ground. Well, after the stinky bomb known only as The Love Guru, it kind of makes sense he would return to where he received most of his box office success. To me, this sounds like a desperate bid to get more out of a dried-up well of gold; if I were Myers, I would rather work on the-never-going-to-be-made Wayne's World 3. Still, godspeed Mr. Myers, hope it works out! I wouldn't recommend a Blu upgrade, unless you've already worn out your original DVD. However, if you like the films and don't own them, the set is actually decently priced at $45 over at Amazon.
New Line is found guilty of not putting enough mojo into this trilogy, but the films and makers are free to go.
Court is adjourned!
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