TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante & George Miller

Written by: John Landis, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, Melissa Mathison & Jerome Bixby

Starring: Albert Brooks, Dan Aykroyd, Vic Morrow, Doug McGrath, Charles Hallahan, Scatman Crothers, Bill Quinn, Martin Gamer, Selma Diamond, Helen Shaw, Kathleen Quinlan, Jeremy Licht, Kevin McCarthy & John Lithgow

From 1959 until 1964, Rod Serling made a splash on the small screen with a hugely influential and acclaimed anthology series called THE TWILIGHT ZONE. The episodes could range from scary to heartfelt and almost always had an otherworldly edge around them. During the early 80’s, four influential directors became attached to a big screen adaptation of Serling’s small screen series. Drawing inspiration from original episodes and turning them into four distinct segments of this movie, each director delivers their signature style in a TWILIGHT ZONE story of their own. What results is a sometimes mixed bag, but mostly quality horror/sci-fi anthology. Now, onto the stories themselves…

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PROLOGUE: This opening segment (running at just under 10 minutes) follows two men driving along a desolated road. When the radio breaks, the pair entertain themselves through casual conversation and little road games, but this all takes a dark turn when one man asks the other if he wants to see something “really scary.” This opening runs a bit too long as it’s just one big set-up for a jump scare that is tame by today’s standards. This brief prologue is not particularly great, but still has its charming qualities. B-

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TIME OUT: Bill Connor is an ill-tempered bigot. After getting drunk at a bar and going on a verbal insult spree against black people, Asians, and Jews, Bill finds himself stuck in a shifting timeline of hatred as he runs for his life from Nazis, American soldiers in Vietnam, and the KKK. This segment gave the film notoriety after a fatal on-stage accident claimed the lives of Vic Morrow and two illegally hired child actors. That tragedy and legal trial overshadow what is a fairly good story with a grim moral message. In spite of never actually completing this segment (which originally had a far more uplifting ending), the continuity blends together well. It’s a dark segment with great acting from Vic Morrow as a hate-filled man forced to sympathize with those he despises. Good moral, good ending, but a horrible on-stage accident casts a shadow over the whole film. A-

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KICK THE CAN: It’s pretty easy to identify the worst story in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. Ironically enough, it comes from the biggest name out of the four directors. Steven Spielberg strays from the dark and eerie tone of the rest of the anthology to tell a charming/cheesy story about old folks in a retirement home recovering their youth in a magical game of Kick the Can. This segment starts off well enough, but quickly devolves into an overly sappy, melodramatic mess. Besides the story going far too over-the-top and not tonally blending in with the rest of the film, the child actors are really bad. It seems that Spielberg had the kids try to imitate elderly people as opposed to just being kids and it doesn’t work at all. C-

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IT’S A GOOD LIFE: Based on one of the TWILIGHT ZONE’s best episodes, this story follows a schoolteacher who befriends a young child named Anthony. After she driving Anthony to his home, it becomes quickly clear that his living situation is abnormal to say the least. The teacher quickly learns the frightening truth that the saying “If you can dream it, you can do it” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to Anthony. This second best installment of the bunch manages to nail down the right balance of over-the-top and scary. It starts off a little slow, but quickly gains momentum with impressive visuals and a crazy storyline. Honestly, I think director Joe Dante would have been right at home doing a whole TWILIGHT ZONE anthology all by himself, but then we wouldn’t have this film’s closing segment (more on that in a moment). A

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NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET: Talk about going out on a high (no pun intended), NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET is an adaptation that’s actually better than the iconic episode that inspired it. A nervous passenger on an airplane is flying through a turbulent storm. He’s scared out of his wits, but tries to maintain a positive attitude that the plane will land in once piece…that is, until he sees something on the wing of the plane. This story truly is the best this film has to offer. Directed by George Miller (the same man who brought us the MAD MAX series), NIGHMARE AT 20,000 FEET literally feels like a nightmare put onto the screen. To merely call this story intense or creepy would be doing a disservice to the material. Aided by John Lithgow’s stellar performance, Miller manages to capture a sense of claustrophobic chaos that will have you on the edge of your seat through the whole story. Also, there’s a nice call-back to an early segment that will at least get a chuckle out of you (if not a shiver down your spine as well). A+

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TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE is, like most anthologies, a bit of a mixed bag. There’s only one really disappointing story (ironically enough, it happens to be from the most accomplished director attached to this project), a decent prologue, and three tales that measure up to varying degrees of greatness. This film is worth seeing if only for the last two segments. Overall, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE is an anthology film that’s well worth seeking out.

Grade: B+

SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 3 hours 15 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language, some Sexuality and Actuality Violence

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Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: Steven Zaillian

(based on the novel SCHINDLER’S ARK by Thomas Keneally)

Starring: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall, Embeth Davidtz & Malgorzata Gebel

Of all the atrocities in human history, the Holocaust certainly makes an argument for being one of the most depressing and depraved acts of evil. However, in times of unspeakable evil, goodness can always shine through in the kind actions of caring individuals. German businessman Oskar Schindler put his life on the line and went above and beyond to save 1,100 Jews during the Holocaust. Schindler’s heroic actions are brilliantly brought to stark life in SCHINDLER’S LIST, which also serves as director Steven Spielberg’s finest hour. This film is a masterpiece that is absolutely essential viewing.

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The time is WWII and Jews are systematically being stripped of their basic human rights. It is no wonder why Oskar Schindler has come up with a pretty ingenious, crooked plan to run a new company by employing Jews. Schindler is profiting off slave labor and reaping all the financial benefits. His Jewish assistant, Itzhak Stern, uses Schindler’s company to employ as many Jews as possible…much to Schindler’s dismay as he sees his business as a business instead of a safe haven. Though Schindler starts off as a uncaring businessman, he finds himself changed as the war continues and circumstances get more dire for his workers. This film tells Oskar Schindler’s story in beautiful and tragic detail.

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SCHINDLER’S LIST is ambitious epic that spans the duration of the Holocaust, detailing each significant step in that horrifying genocide. Despite being made in 1993, the film captures WWII Germany as best as it might ever be captured on the silver screen. There’s no possible way to bring all the real-life horrors to the screen, but Steven Spielberg definitely nails a suffocating atmosphere of despair that most certainly hovered over the concentration camps. Black-and-white cinematography lends to a timeless feeling, but also doesn’t shy from graphic visuals. Be warned, this movie is hard to watch in many places and frequently disturbing, as it should be considering the subject matter. At its heart, this is the story of one good man who did his best to save lives in the face of insurmountable wickedness.

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Liam Neeson is astounding as Schindler. Before Neeson became the unlikely action star that he is today, there was a quiet dignity around him. This quality shines through in Neeson’s Schindler going through a wholly believable transformation from cold businessman to unlikely hero. You grow to care about Schindler and appreciate every ounce of goodness this man contains in his bones, especially when he explains to skeptical Nazi officers why children and the elderly are essential to his company (thus saving their lives). Ben Kingsley disappears into his role as Stern who gradually becomes a best friend to Schindler as the years go on. Ralph Fiennes dominates his scenes as SS-captain Amon Goeth. Molding his portrayal based on actual testimonies from concentration camp survivors, Fiennes is scary and stone-faced as the Nazi. War can bring out the worst in people, but Goeth seems to have been an utter sociopath enjoying the benefits of killing without repercussions. Scenes between Neeson and Fiennes give some of the heaviest pieces of dialogue in the whole film, including a discussion about what makes real power.

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SCHINDLER’S LIST encompasses a lot of strong emotions. Oskar Schindler’s journey and selfless actions are inspiring and beautiful. The Holocaust imagery is harrowing and heart-breaking. I cannot think of one single moment where I was ever bored as this film covers a lot of ground with a steady pace that manages to capture years of sorrow in a running time of just over three hours. A scene involving the showers at Auschwitz is an agonizingly intense sequence and the ending is one of the biggest tear-jerking cinematic experiences that I’ve ever seen (I wound up nearly sobbing as a result).

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SCHINDLER’S LIST is deserving of every single accolade, bit of praise and award it has received since it’s release. Though Spielberg has laid down many cinematic corner stones in his career, this is the masterpiece that he’ll always be remembered for. War certainly brings out the worst in people, but also manages to bring out inherent kindness of genuinely good human beings. SCHINDLER’S LIST is a classic that deserves to go down as one of the greatest films ever made and one of the most important films that you’ll ever watch.

Grade: A+

THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 9 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sci-Fi Terror and Violence

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Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: David Koepp

(based on the novel THE LOST WORLD by Michael Crichton)

Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn, Pete Postlethwaite, Arliss Howard & Peter Stormare

Following the massive success of JURASSIC PARK, there were immediate talks of sequels. So Michael Crichton wrote a sequel novel (a first in his career) and faster than you could say cash-in, there was a script ready (by David Koepp, co-writer of the first film) and Spielberg was helming the entire project. In 1997, after four years of anticipation, audiences were treated to a middle-of-the-road sequel. What exactly makes this second installment so mediocre? Perhaps, it’s that there are many repetitive scenes that were done far better in the first film. One might argue that it could be the silly excuse for a story and hollow characters. Maybe, just maybe, it was the need to be overly excessive and unnecessarily dark in tone. At the end of the day, a combination of iffy factors make for an iffy movie and that’s definitely the case with THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK.

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Years have passed since the disaster of John Hammond’s prehistoric theme park. Chaos theorist Ian Malcolm is still recovering from the traumatic experience of being chased by man-eating dinosaurs. Imagine his surprise when he’s unwillingly recruited by the now disgraced Hammond to investigate a second island filled with dinosaurs. This mysterious second island was meant to be a natural preserve for the dino-clones. Ian and a ragtag group of researchers find their already dangerous expedition to the second island becoming even more dangerous thanks to a group of hunters led by Hammond’s evil nephew, Peter. Soon tensions between the groups rise and their expedition becomes a struggle to survive from more vicious dinosaurs.

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A comparison between LOST WORLD and JURASSIC PARK is inevitable, seeing as the second novel wouldn’t even exist without the success of the first movie. This sequel feels like a cash-in. The story is a piss-poor flimsy excuse for more people to get eaten by dinosaurs. Hollow characters don’t help either. Jeff Goldblum was an annoying asshole in the first movie, but that’s who his character was. Here, he feels like he’s forcing comic relief lines and seems distracted by the big paycheck on his mind. Julianne Moore and Vince Vaughn are equally as wooden. There’s also the godawful inclusion of an annoying kid character. While the first film had children in peril, those young actors were convincing in their roles and smartly written. The annoying addition of Ian’s smart-aleck, easily frightened child adds nothing but frustration to this film. A scene where she eliminates a Velicoraptor through gymnastics is beyond stupid.

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As the movie moves from set-piece to set-piece, there are a few neat moments to be had. The tone is far darker than in the original, which lends to more grisly deaths. My favorite of which being Peter Stormare’s ill-fated scumbag coming face to face with a pack of pissed off Compys (small carnivorous scavengers). These little beasties are arguably the best part of the entire film, but only pop up for a handful of scenes. The special effects bringing the dinosaurs to life somehow look less impressive than the first film, but do the job just fine. There’s still some entertainment value to be found in dinosaurs eating people, but the overlong running time (slightly longer than the first movie) drags to a crawl in the final third.

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Spielberg regarded the T-Rex as the show-stealer of the original, so it seems like he was having a blast in this sequel. More time is devoted to the T-Rex than any other dinosaur. Velociraptors are noticeably absent aside from a brief 10 minute patch of film. While the Compys are a cool new dinosaur, other fresh-faced prehistoric reptiles (including a Stegosaurus) pretty much exist for a brief minute or two and then vanish entirely. The main problem with THE LOST WORLD comes in it feeling so derivative and repetitive with an unnecessary amount of excess. In the original, a scumbag with disregard for the monster in from of him was killed by a scary-as-hell Dilophosaurus. In this sequel, that moment happens twice with Compys and a baby T-Rex. In the first, there was an exciting car chase between three people and a T-Rex. In the sequel, there’s a similar chase on foot where the amount of people running is upped purely for a higher body count. The list of scenes goes on and on. It’s almost as if Spielberg, Koepp, and Crichton tried to clone the original film with more violent sensibilities. The end result is a lackluster, overly familiar disappointment.

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More dinosaurs, bloodier deaths, and a T-Rex running through the streets of San Diego does not a good sequel make. There is some dumb fun to be found in THE LOST WORLD purely for seeing deserving dumbasses meet their doom at the jaws of dinosaurs, but a boring story and wooden protagonists make this a drag for the most part. When you’re simply counting the seconds until the movie to ends during a would-be exciting climax, there’s a serious problem with your so-called adventure. THE LOST WORLD is a middle-of-the-road monster movie when taken on its own. That doesn’t stop this sequel from being a massive disappointment when viewed after its incredible predecessor.

Grade: C

JURASSIC PARK (1993)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 7 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Science Fiction Terror

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Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: Michael Crichton & David Koepp

(based on the novel JURASSIC PARK by Michael Crichton)

Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Wayne Knight & Samuel L. Jackson

JURASSIC PARK holds a special place in my heart. Aside from a couple of Disney movies, this is one of the first films I have vivid memories of watching. When the movie wasn’t scarring me with its scary moments, I was taken on a cinematic adventure that I enjoyed over and over again (damn near wearing out the VHS copy that my family had). It’s been years since I had seen this 1993 dinosaur flick. I figured it was time to revisit the franchise with an approaching fourth film on the horizon. No sugar-coating in any way, the story of JURASSIC PARK basically boils down to a good, old-fashioned, science-gone-wrong monster movie. The monsters just happen to be dinosaurs and the result just happens to be one of the greatest cinematic adventures ever crafted!

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In case you’ve somehow been left in the dark about the general premise of this movie, JURASSIC PARK is about a fantastical theme park where dinosaurs literally come to life. Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler are two romantically involved paleontologists invited by mad scientist Dr. Hammond to certify that his newly created island theme park is safe. Along with a handful of other specialists, the scientist couple are wowed by living, breathing clones of prehistoric animals. However, we wouldn’t have much of an exciting adventure if this movie was merely about a group of folks casually walking through a theme park looking at dinosaur exhibits. So thanks to a security glitch, electric fences shut down and dinosaurs freely roam the park…which leads to people dying. Grant, Sattler, Hammond, and the rest must fight for their lives to survive the massive amusement park turned bloody hunting ground.

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Make no qualms about it, JURASSIC PARK is a simple story. It’s an effectively crafted one as master filmmaker Steven Spielberg manages to capture the same sense of slow-building suspense that he did in JAWS. We know we will get a glimpse of all of these dinosaurs that we hear details about, but we don’t know exactly when it will happen. The viewer’s patience is constantly rewarded with multiple big reveals spread throughout the film (one of which doesn’t even hit until the final 30 minutes). Without playing all of his cards at once, Spielberg and screenwriters Crichton and Koepp maintain a solid sense of excitement all through the entire film.

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The 63 million budget (at the time, this number was huge) is brought to the screen as this film feels like a window into another world. The location of Jurassic Park looks real enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if someone actually stumbled across it. Little details are evident in small set design decisions. The characters populating this world feel genuine. At first, I felt like Alan was a bit of a one-dimensional protagonist at the start of the film. However, the character development given through small interactions and brief comments give all the character information needed about every single person in this story. A perfect example of this comes in Alan’s crotchety attitude towards Hammond’s grandchildren, which seems quietly annoyed upon meeting them and rapidly grows into concern as prehistoric shit hits the fan. I can’t think of a character that I actively disliked or thought was performed poorly by a cast member. A questionable exception would be the game warden’s reaction of saying “clever girl” in the face of imminent death which winds up being silly and awesome at the same time.

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On the main subject of the dinosaurs themselves, the combination of CGI and practical effects still holds up perfectly. The movie could have simply relied on the carnivores running loose, but there’s equal time devoted to the beautiful herbivore dinosaurs as well (including a great tree-top sequence with a Brachiosaurus). This decision only heightens the frightening encounters with the man-eating monsters. Though Steven Spielberg considered the impressive T-Rex as the “star of the show,” I actually find the smaller beasts to be scary. The poison-spitting Dilophosaurus is given one moment of screen time, but it’s definitely a memorable moment that will have young kids and grown adults screaming in terror. To me, the main attraction of JURASSIC PARK is the Velociraptors. A lot of dialogue and small scenes are devoted to building up these fearsome predators and they certainly don’t disappoint when unleashed at full force, becoming the main antagonists in the final act.

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JURASSIC PARK is truly one of the huge stand-out moments of film history. Besides introducing revolutionary special effects onto the screen (bringing convincing dinosaurs to life), the story is terrifically exciting and endlessly rewatchable. This is a creature feature, but it’s one of the absolute best. JURASSIC PARK holds up flawlessly as a masterful cinematic adventure to this day!

Grade: A+

AUSTIN POWERS: GOLDMEMBER (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sexual Innuendo, Crude Humor and Language

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Directed by: Jay Roach

Written by: Mike Myers & Michael McCullers

Starring: Mike Myers, Beyoncé Knowles, Michael York, Michael Caine, Robert Wagner, Seth Green, Verne Troyer, Mindy Sterling & Fred Savage

AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY received lukewarm reception in its theatrical release and became a quick cult hit on home video. A couple of years later, THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME came out to delight many fans of the groovy swinging spy from the 60’s. After the hit of that sequel, it took three years for GOLDMEMBER to come out in the summer of 2002. Unfortunately, this is a lackluster installment to say the least. Jokes that were funny in the first two have gotten stale in this third outing. It almost seems like success got to the heads of Mike Myers, Michael McCullers and Jay Roach. A cameo loaded opening full of Oscar winners and pop stars is a sign that this entry had far more of a budget this time around. That’s apparent in many areas, but more money doesn’t necessarily make for a better movie. A majority of GOLDMEMBER either comes as bland or forced.

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Austin Powers has finally apprehended Dr. Evil and tiny clone Mini-Me. However, Austin faces a threat from the past in the form of a 70’s disco-dancing Dutch madman by the name of Goldmember. This lunatic has kidnapped Austin’s neglectful father. It’s up to the shaggadelic spy and a newly found afro-touting sidekick Foxxy Cleopatra to take down Goldmember, save Austin’s dad, and stop another ridiculous plan from Dr. Evil. What happened to Felicity Shagwell of the last film? Did she go back to the past? Was she actually a Fembot? Is it possible that Heather Graham wasn’t contractually obligated to appear briefly in a third film to close off her romance with Mike Myers? All of these could be a possibility, but the real answer is never given to the audience. This is an early plot hole that’s a sign of some seriously lazy writing (even Vanessa got a good send off in SPY WHO SHAGGED ME).

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GOLDMEMBER may be a weak ending to the impromptu AUSTIN POWERS trilogy (did anybody seriously expect this to become a three-film series), but it’s the slickest in cinematography. The make-up on Dr. Evil, Fat Bastard, and Goldmember looks good. The film does obviously spoof more 007 flicks (GOLDFINGER for example), but more references to other movies (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS in a specific scene) and pop culture (a Britney Spears cameo and rap music video in the middle of a jail scene). These latter bits aren’t very funny and come off as awkward. Also unneeded are flashbacks of young Austin and Dr. Evil. Michael Caine is a welcome addition as Austin’s deadbeat father, but he’s essentially wasted for a majority of the flick. Also Scotty and Mini-Me are given story arcs, but neither are as hilarious as the material in the previous films.

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Mike Myers plays four different characters this time around. Of course, he’s Austin Powers and Dr. Evil. He also returns as Fat Bastard and the newly added Goldmember. Goldmember is also a wasted villain too. This baddie’s over-the-top Dutch accent, penchant for commenting on how tight people are, lack of genitalia, and snacks of pancakes with cigarettes come off as completely lame. None of his jokes are very funny and it’s clear that Mike Myers was going into a bad spot of his comedic abilities (this was only a year before the disastrous CAT IN THE HAT).  Most of the other jokes (including returning bits from the previous entries) are dusty this time around. A more blatant example is the dirty name of a sexy woman. In the first two films it was Ivanna Humpalot or Alotta Fagina. This time around the joke has been regulated to the easy cheap Fook Mi and Fook Yu. It’s insulting how much it appears that everyone phoned it in both acting and writing. One saving grace comes in a solid set of three scenes in Japan that I was laughing hysterically at. If everything had been up to the par of those 15 minutes, than GOLDMEMBER would be a solid conclusion to an entertaining trilogy of spy-comedies. Also, Beyoncé Knowles isn’t much of a love interest. She lacks the charm of both Elizabeth Hurley and Heather Graham.

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An overly convoluted script is just one of the many things that GOLDMEMBER suffers from. Did we really need an intricate mythology to how Dr. Evil and Austin Powers met? There are a couple of really funny moments (my favorite part being three scenes in a row in Japan), but they are few and far between. Most of the humor is far too forced. The entire film is disappointing and the end result is a purely middle-of-the-road experience.

Grade: C

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