Like most people, I discovered the little gem that is "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" on VHS and not in theatres. One of the best comedies of the 1990s, "AP1" is best appreciated by those with a love for cinema given its references to so many other movies. Then came the "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" phenomenon--a sequel grossing more during its opening weekend than the entire run of the previous film. "AP2" did huge business at the box office, which is rather fitting. "AP2" was basically "AP1" on steroids with a bit of time travel thrown into the mix. Mike Myers used the charm of the eponymous character (a fish out of water) to ridicule both popular culture and the outrageous, occasionally clunky spy films of the 1960s and 1970s. I didn't like "AP2" as much as "AP1". The sequel played too broadly, and Heather Graham, a bad actress, was no match for the sly Elizabeth Hurley in the first film. Still, it provided an afternoon's worth of fun and yuks.
"Austin Powers in Goldmember", the third in the series, is a disaster. It, too, made a lot of money for the principal filmmakers, but it is an ugly enterprise. For starters, the sex jokes, both verbal and physical, are downright lewd. There is no sense of grace or invention when Fat Bastard (a severely overweight Scot played by Myers) starts rubbing his man-breasts and pantomimes sexually mauling Destiny's Child's lead singer Beyoncé Knowles. I often winced in disbelief when I saw the movie on opening Saturday because there were so many young children in the auditorium who shouldn't have been subjected to such disgusting subject matter. I find it hard to believe that "AP3" received only a PG-13 and not the R rating.
In "AP3", Austin Powers (Mike Myers) seeks to rescue his father, Nigel (Michael Caine), from the Dr. Evil (Myers again) and Goldmember (Myers yet again) partnership. The heavies want to terrorize the world with a powerful weapon, and Austin must save the world with the aid of Foxy Cleopatra (Knowles). There's little more to the plot other than distracting sidebars. Also, at the risk of sounding uptight and prudish, I feel the need to voice my concerns about the rather racist bent of the film's attitude towards non-Brits and non-Americans. What's so weird about Goldmember having a Dutch accent, especially if he's from Holland? What's so funny about "Fook Yu" and "Fook Mi" as pseudo-Japanese names? Exactly.
There are appearances by the usual characters--Basil Exposition (Michael York from "Cabaret", believe it or not), Number Two (Robert Wagner), Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling), Mini-Me (Verne Troyer), Scott Evil (Seth Green)--as well as new ones, including Number Three/The Mole (Fred Savage wearing a huge mole on his face) and the aforementioned Goldmember. The large cast is a huge problem that the movie never solves. There are so many character threads that the script becomes frantic without ever being interesting. As I sat in the movie theatre, I thought to myself, "Okay, he does this and she does that, but does any of it really matter?" The answer is, of course, a resounding no.
I admit that I laughed a few times and even guffawed. However, the movie left me with a bad taste in my mouth. (I mean, I laughed when I saw Jeff Daniels crapping out his intestines in "Dumb and Dumber", but my laughing hardly means that that was a great comedy.) "AP3" resorts to hit-a-guy-in-the-crotch for its best jokes. Visual gags fall rather flat (i.e. putting Dr. Evil inside a Plexiglas cage ala Hannibal Lecter), and I don't know why Mike Myers continues to use that bit where he puns on puns until even Austin Powers no longer finds them amusing.
You've probably heard of the numerous cameos that appear in "AP3". They are justifiably famous, though cameos can't be expected to carry a movie. Yet, such is the way that "AP3" was made so that the cameos are the biggest laugh-generators. In fact, except for the first 7 minutes, the movie is a demonstration of how NOT to make a comedy.
Finally, there is that horrible ending. If you can accept what the story tells you at face value, then you have to wonder--does it make sense to let people get away with trying to terrorize the world simply because someone develops warm, fuzzy feelings? Steven Spielberg's harshest critics harp on his sentimentality, but I've never seen a more ludicrous display of sentimentality than the way "AP3" resolves its conflicts. Ugh.
"Austin Powers in Goldmember" reminds me of the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" concept--basically, you have a bunch of self-impressed people/characters behaving in a manner only they themselves find hilarious. "AP1" offered wit and sophistication. "AP2" relied on a tried-and-true formula for its rehash of old-school spy-movie plots. "AP3" dares us to gawk at idiotic improvisations run amok. I'm going to let the movie win the dare.
The often sumptuous-looking 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen video presentation has no blemishes. I didn't see any damage to the film print itself, nor did I see any instances of compression artifacts. Vibrant colors dance across the screen without apparent shimmering. Grain doesn't appear to be a problem, either. However, I can't award the DVD with a "10" for its Video because of the fact that so many CGI shots are so muddy and blurry. Perhaps the computer effects were meant to look bad in keeping with the cheesy feel of the franchise. However, bad is bad, and I'm going to call it like it is.
A separate Pan&Scan version of the DVD is available--a first for the infinifilm line. The P&S DVD offers the same features as the widescreen DVD. However, as usual, we DVD Towners recommend viewing films in their original aspect ratios whenever possible.
"AP2" was one of the first DVDs with a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track (a rear center channel matrixed into the left and right rear surrounds). "AP3" offers both DD 5.1 EX English and DTS 6.1 ES English (a separately encoded rear center channel) tracks. If you like to annoy the neighbors and to wake up everyone else in the house, then "AP3" will be your DVD of choice. Heavy bass presence ensures that your windows will rattle, and loud, garish music blares happily from every speaker. The actors' voices are always comfortably audible if not always intelligible (i.e. when Austin and Nigel Powers speak Cockney English).
The sound design falls short of a "10" because the mixes aren't very innovative. There are sound effects that play in only 1 rear channel, and there are sound effects that smoothly pan across the room without appearing too localized. However, you're always aware that you're watching a movie rather than feeling as if you were sucked into an environment (like "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" or "Minority Report").
Those of you without digital sound set-ups should watch the film with the included DD 2.0 surround English mix. English closed captions support the audio. (Because of the way that New Line's infinifilm DVDs are engineered, there are no language subtitle streams.)
At first glance, the listed extras promise loads of entertainment. However, DVD extras are limited in quality by the quality of the main feature itself. Therefore, I'm afraid that I have bad news to report--the "Goldmember" bonuses are a wash, just like the movie.
As with the other infinifilm DVDs ("Thirteen Days", "15 Minutes", "Blow", "Rush Hour 2", and "John Q"), you can watch "AP3" purely as a movie or as an interactive show. With the infinifilm function activated, menu screens appear on the screen that allow you to branch out to watch some of the DVD's extras and then return to exactly where you exited the movie. The bonus materials have been subdivided into Beyond the Movie and All-Access Pass categories.
Beyond the Movie (extras pertinent to issues raised by the movie; a term exclusive to infinifilm titles):
-"MI-6: International Men of Mystery": a superficial account of the world of "gentlemen spies".
-"Fashion vs. Fiction": a look at sartorial choices during the 1970s.
-"Disco Fever": a brief look at disco.
-"English English": an explanation of the slang used by Austin and Nigel Powers.
-"Fact Track": a subtitle track that displays trivia information while the movie plays.
All-Access Pass (extras directly pertinent to the movie; a term used for extras on all New Line DVDs):
-Audio commentary by director Jay Roach and Mike Myers: The big cheeses responsible for the "Austin Powers" movies, Roach and Myers are a lot quieter than you would expect given the riot that takes place in these productions. Mostly, they just talk about how fun it was to work with everyone else, so serious filmwatchers won't get much of an education here. It's a pleasant listen, though, and less painful than experiencing the flat jokes in the movie.
-The World of Austin Powers: a collection of featurettes.
*Jay Roach & Mike Myers: Creative Convergence
*Convergence of Characters: Goldmember, Foxxy Cleopatra, Nigel Powers, Masters Powers & Evil
*The Cars of "Austin Powers in Goldmember"
*Anatomy of Three Scenes: Dancing at the Gates, Roller Disco, Sumo Battle
-Visual FX Segment: a showcase of digital compositing and layering (featuring a car entering Dr. Evil's submarine).
-25 minutes of deleted/alternate scenes with optional audio commentary.
-4 Music Videos: Beyoncé Knowles's "Work It Out", Britney Spears's "Boys", Ming Tea's "Daddy Wasn't There", Dr. Evil and Mini-Me's "Hard Knock Life".
-"Trailers": 3 Teasers and 1 Final.
The "AP3" DVD is yet another disc that offers the Revoice Studio program first seen with "Shrek". Basically, you can record your own voices to accompany various scenes in the movie. There are also weblinks to film-related sites, weblinks to additional extras available only to DVD owners, and some items (wallpapers, screensavers, etc.) for your computer.
A glossy booklet provides information about the disc's interactive features as well as chapter listings.
The outrageous cameos at the beginning of the movie had me in stitches. Taken as a short film, the first 7 or so minutes of "Austin Powers in Goldmember" rate an "8". The rest of the movie is a crude, lewd, uneven, uninvolving, and uninspired mess. It's sad to see a great vehicle run out of gas--let's hope that Mike Myers finds a way to re-fuel his franchise.
Note: There is a booklet of special offers, coupons, and mail-in rebates inside the DVD keepcase. Those of you who like to play with the Revoice software will want to request the free Austin Powers microphone (you pay for shipping and handling).