AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER
If the surprise hasn't already been spoiled for you, let it be said that the pre-credits cameos in Austin Powers in Goldmember are practically worth the price of admission.
I wouldn't dream of revealing who shows up, but let's just say that the five celebs in question have amassed sixteen Oscar nominations and six statuettes between them, and their appearances earn the biggest laughs I've heard at the movies all year. I can't imagine anyone not loving this segment; I also can't imagine anyone not suspecting this scene to be the movie's high point. They'd be right. After its joyfully outrageous opening, Goldmember has nowhere to go but down, and although the film still offers the occasional riotous moment, it shows that Mike Myers' franchise might have finally run out of steam.
In Goldmember, our shagadelic superspy must thwart Dr. Evil's plan for melting the polar icecaps and destroying the world.
There, that takes care of the plot synopsis. So what about the film?
Well, you'll get exactly what you expect ... and less. Those who found 1999's The Spy Who Shagged Me to be a prolonged, obnoxious in-joke will be in even greater pain here: Scenes stretch out so long they make you wince, the actors constantly roll their eyes at the corniness of it all (are they beating us to the punch?), the token love interest (Beyonce Knowles, an improvement over Heather Graham ... barely) has nothing to do, and after foisting Fat Bastard upon the world, Myers now presents us with the titular villain, a profoundly unfunny and repellant figure who merely indulges Myers' chance to adopt a mock-Dutch accent. Granted, the series still gets mileage out of its silhouetted gags (a scene of Austin "giving birth" to Mimi-Me is a gross-out classic) and Dr. Evil is still good for a chuckle. I loved his joy at finally getting sharks with laser beams attached to their heads. But, especially in his Austin drag, Myers seems rather defanged here, the series' second-bananas (Seth Green, Robert Wagner, Mindy Sterling, Michael York) are all but inactive, and I think it was a big mistake to introduce Michael Caine, as Austin's swinging father, into the mix - the last thing this amateurish enterprise needs is a real actor. His presence underlines how flagrantly everyone else is going through the motions. None of this seemed to bother the kids in the audience, though, or a lot of the adults; the film's big laughs are spread out so you can be tricked into thinking you've been laughing continuously. As a time-waster, it's fairly diverting, I guess. But it's also lazy and slack, and any sane viewer will enjoy Goldmember's five-minute movie-within-a-movie far more than Goldmember itself.
STUART LITTLE 2
Stuart Little 2 is, without question, the most purely charming movie in current release. To call that a shock would be a major understatement; the 1999 original had charm, to be sure, but also a lot of crass mayhem involving a bunch of cats who wanted to eat our furry hero, and aren't children's-movie sequels invariably noisier and less beguiling than the originals? (I refer you to The Black Stallion Returns, Babe: Pig in the City, Dr. Dolittle 2, et cetera, et cetera ... .) But here, nearly everything works, and works beautifully. In this installment, Stuart (again voiced by a spirited Michael J. Fox), the nearly human talking mouse, takes in a damaged parakeet (Melanie Griffith, doing her most touching work in years) only to find she has a hidden, larcenous agenda, and the whole enterprise reprises everything that was enjoyable about the original film - the inspired animation, Geena Davis's hyper-protective Mrs. Little, the literally catty voice-over work by Nathan Lane - and adds a surprising poignance; the film's messages about how it's okay to be different have greater resonance this time around, and its themes on friendship are sweet without being mawkish. Add to this several clever one-liners and some cliffhangers and chase sequences that would make the creators of the Toy Story movies proud, and you have a movie that the young 'uns will absolutely adore without the grown-ups feeling like boobs for being there, too. (I saw it without being accompanied by kids and had a great time.) In its own pint-sized way, Stuart Little 2 is just about perfect.
THE CROCODILE HUNTER: COLLISION COURSE
I didn't intend on viewing The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course, mainly because it starred ultra-loquacious Animal Planet guide Steve Irwin; whenever I catch this guy's act on television, joshing and mugging at the camera, I'm torn between wanting to see Steve tame nature's savage beasts and wanting a boa constrictor to attack his throat, just to make this verbose Aussie shut the hell up. Yet even a film critic occasionally hits the cineplex just to escape a muggy summer afternoon, and I have to admit that Collision Course wasn't at all bad. Oh sure, the movie proper is mostly inept. The "plot" concerns a piece of spy-satellite hardware that lands in Australia; CIA agents are sent looking for it, not realizing it's in the belly of a crocodile that Steve and his American wife, Terri, are tracking. Inevitably, the agents think that Steve and Terri are spies, a lot of city-slickers-in-the-outback silliness ensues, and the film's humor is broad, obvious, and unfunny even from a kids'-movie standpoint. (Expect lots of jokes involving animal feces.) But amazingly, that which I dreaded turns out to be the movie's saving grace - whenever the movie focuses solely on Steve introducing us to the wonders, and perils, of nature, Collision Course is pretty terrific entertainment.
The Irwins' TV specials have a fair degree of documentarian intimacy, but I never would have guessed that their work could transfer so well to the big screen. You know, of course, that Steve's not going to get seriously hurt - this isn't Faces of Death - but the care and legitimate fear with which Steve performs his astonishing acts of animal-wrangling indicate that he easily could, and I realized his constant yammering served a purpose; he's babbling in an attempt to calm his frazzled nerves (and it's oddly enjoyable watching him visibly shake and sputter while holding an enormous arachnid). Whenever Steve addressed the camera while holding one of the "beautiful creatures" that could strike him at any moment, the audience - young children, mostly - was dead silent with awe, and Collision Course brought to the theatre something that has been largely missing from recent family entertainment: wonder. Half of the movie is junk (Here's a tip: Whenever the film switches from standard-frame to widescreen, the "plot" is about to kick in, so you can freely visit the concession stand for a while), but the half that's fun is awfully fun, and it makes you truly respect a man who, previously, you might never have wanted to watch again.