Austin Powers inGoldmember, the movie that this week set the all-time opening weekend box office record for a comedy, is being maligned by Christian media critics as crass, disgusting, and even "abhorrent."

Despite these complaints, Saturday Night Live veteran Mike Myers has beat the box office again with this "three-quel." The Powers franchise lampoons James Bond and spoofs the quirks and clichés of '60s and '70s film and television favorites. Once again, Myers himself plays multiple roles—the womanizing free-styling title character, his bald and quirky nemesis Dr. Evil, and a few other particularly dislikable freaks. This time, his sidekick is Foxy Cleopatra (pop star Beyonce Knowles), herself a spoof of '70s 'blacksploitation' heroes. Powers's father also appears, played by Michael Caine. No one dares deny Myers's talents or the talented crew and cast that bring this lunacy to life. But critics remain chagrined at Myers' reliance on the vulgar and profane.

A critic at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops writes, "The story itself is haphazardly constructed, somehow muddling through to the end—leaving logic and engaging storytelling on the sidelines. And the sexual innuendo is in full force as it was with the first two. The cast delivers pretty much what one would expect, but director Roach could have done more with the all-too-willing Caine."

Phil Boatwright (Movie Reporter) writes, "Myers is a very intelligent man and certainly knows comedy, but the Austin Powers franchise … often has less plot than a Saturday Night Live sketch. [Myers] equates toilet humor with sophisticated comedy. Whatever brings a laugh is his objective. Trouble is, the scatological jokes that make up most of the film's humor are the cheapest form of comedy." Paul Bicking (Preview) also complains of "the constant sexually suggestive humor." And Tom Snyder (Movieguide) sums it up: "Ultimately, Goldmember is an abhorrent exercise in excess."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says the franchise "has become somewhat tiresome … rather like an aging uncle who insists upon telling the same stories every time he visits." Of Myers, he says, "Would that he would find a film that is actually worthy of his chameleon-like abilities." Steven Isaac (Focus on the Family) also praises the star, but stops there: "Myers' versatility and talent are undeniable. [But he] seems determined to use his ferocious talent to push fans down rather than lift them up. And we as a movie-loving culture are all but begging him to do it. Put bluntly, Goldmember pushes the PG-13 boundary harder than any film I can think of."

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Holly McClure (Crosswalk) says, "I took my 16-year-old son and 18-year-old nephew to see this movie, and they both thought it was very funny. They liked the retro clothes, hairdos and jokes. I'm a fan of Myers and think he's been a genius with these three movies, but I have to admit that several scenes were gross and offensive to me." Kevin Burk (Christian Spotlight) finds it a mixed bag as well: "Basically, the film is a fairly well-crafted, low-intelligence spoof just like its predecessors. The humor usually hit its mark, but half the time it's crude and immoral. In short, if you could stand the last two, you'll probably like this one. If Mike Myers and his brand of humor aren't for you, stay away. And do not bring the kiddies (I'd leave the teens at home too.)"

J. Robert Parks (The Phantom Tollbooth) argues that critics may not be alone in their discouragement with the series. "Myers has claimed this will be the last Austin Powers flick, and who can blame him? He looks bored. The only great jokes in the movie involve a series of surprising cameos and a couple of self-referential movie gags."


The Country Bearsis the first Disney movie to be made based on one of its theme park attractions. (Doesn't that seem a little backwards?) The Country Bears Jamboree exhibit at Disney parks has become less popular in recent years as visitors seek more thrills, but the Bears remain one of Disneyland's more memorably playful displays.

The Bears movies introduces Beary (Haley Joel Osment), a young bear who discovers from members of his human family that he is adopted. Dismayed, he runs off to find his birth family, only to end up traveling with a band of bear musicians.

Jim Henson's Creature Shop provides the expressive animatronic bears. A remarkable number of musical celebrities signed on for cameo appearances and vocals, including Bonnie Raitt, Don Henley, Bryan Setzer, and Willie Nelson. But their help is not saving the movie from being ridiculed by mainstream critics. Many call this crass commercialism and blatant Disney propaganda. Most call its plot thin, its humor lacking, and what does work is stolen from other films.

Traci Pedone (Focus on the Family) pinpoints the movie from which Bears borrows the most material: "The lack of creativity and humor in this grade-school version of The Blues Brothers will be hard for parents to bear—and even the kids may want to leave early. The Country Bears should have been left to hibernate at Disney World where they belong."

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Phil Boatwright says it has a "pint-sized plot" and it "lacks smart writing." He argues that he would rather see a film for youngsters "that contains clever dialogue, an involving storyline, or interesting characters. Everything in this film has an animatronic feel to it. While that may work in an amusement park, it disappoints in the movie theater."

For some, the music provides temporary relief from the tedium. The USCCB's critic calls it merely "passable entertainment … derivative of The Blues Brothers. The predictable plot is secondary to the energetic musical numbers which are upbeat and entertaining."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "The story which serves as the framework for the film is instantly forgettable. This entire experience might have been described in much the same way if it were not for the music of John Hiatt."

Some Christian critics were so happy to see a family movie that avoids foul language and bawdy humor, they receive it as a classic. Tom Snyder and Ted Baehr (Movieguide) goes so far as to give the film a higher rating than any other film in the Box Office Top Ten. Reviewers Ted Baehr and Tom Snyder call it "an entertaining concoction that will delight children of all ages, even perhaps some jaded teenagers." Mary Draughon (Preview) also calls it "fun for the whole family."

Holly McClure (Crosswalk) compliments it as "a welcome substitute for kids wanting to see the Austin Powers movie and a nice way to spend some family time."

On Tomorrow's Menu

Director M. Night Shyamalan may be moviegoers' last hope for a meaningful blockbuster this summer. The rising star has directed two films that rose above the standards of their genre to become powerful and haunting dramas. The Sixth Sense looked like a ghost story, but it became a movie about overcoming our personal fears. Likewise, the underrated Unbreakable transcended its comic book style to become a powerful parable about using one's gifts responsibly.

According to advance reviews of Shyamalan 's new film Signs, viewers may not get what they're expecting. Previews show us a movie about the paranormal and spooky invaders. But critics insist that in the end, the movie is more interested in faith than extra-terrestrials.

In a review posted today, Douglas LeBlanc (Christianity Today) finds Shyamalan 's film profound, timely, and surprising. "This astonishing story of suffering, grief, and redemption comes from a 32-year-old wunderkind who was born a Hindu and attended Roman Catholic and Episcopal schools in his formative years. Shyamalan is making brilliant, significant, and provocative films in a time when more experienced directors flood the market with sludge. In a film culture so rife with cynicism and multimillion-dollar product placements, it is a miracle to behold this film."

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J. Robert Parks (The Phantom Tollbooth) is also very impressed. "Besides being a suspense thriller, Signs also wants to ponder the nature of faith. It does this by separating people into a simple binary—those who have faith and don't believe in luck or coincidences, and those who feel we're all alone and life is meaningless. It's a simplistic dichotomy and one that might offend the agnostics in our midst, but I found it to be an effective theme within a compelling movie. [Signs is] a taut, intelligent thriller that reminds us of the importance of craft and storytelling."

"It is in the second act of the film, where the influence of other filmmakers takes a back seat to Shyamalan 's truly original style and story," says Dan Buck (critic for Relevant Magazine.) "This film somehow manages to be the most frightening film I've ever seen and yet have moments of joy, humor, and sorrow alongside the terror. It's as though the director is standing at the front of the theater with a conductor's baton. … Yet it is not emotional manipulation. It is just the realistic intermingling of the sacred with the profane, the tragic with the euphoric, and despair with hope."

In the mainstream press, Kirk Honeycutt (Hollywood Reporter) takes note of this emphasis on spirituality. "After three major studio films—and four if you count his second feature, Wide Awake, which Miramax released—it's clear Shyamalan can deliver chills. But equally as clear is his insistence upon investing the supernatural with the metaphysical, which, after all, is the original impulse behind most scary stories. For what is a ghost story but a belief in life after death or an alien invasion movie but a struggle between good and evil?"

We'll offer more responses next week.

Side Dishes

The stream of low-profile "art films" is increasing as we head towards fall. Soon the big Oscar-begging dramas will start popping up. (Some argue that the first big "Fall movie" actually opened in June: Road to Perdition.)

Critics are praising writer/director Nicole Holofcener's Lovely and Amazingand its talented cast, which includes Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich) and Brenda Blethyn (Secrets and Lies). The film follows Michelle (Keener) as she struggles in a troubled marriage and then plunges headlong into an affair with her adolescent boss. The self-absorption and poor self-image of Michelle and her two sisters stem from the similarly flawed perspective of their mother (Blethyn), and the film explores this surface tension—reportedly with little insight.

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J. Robert Parks (The Phantom Tollbooth) says the film contains its own criticism. "Once Lovely and Amazing has established [its] characters and their damaged relationships, the movie doesn't know what to do with them. Instead of moving forward or backwards, the script just gives us more of the same. With such an outstanding cast, it's no surprise that the acting is top-notch. Lovely and Amazing starts off well and then loses its way."

The USCCB's critic writes, "Holofcener asks how children—biological or not—deal with and internalize their parents qualities and fixations. Can similar obsessions dominate a family? The film is mostly engaging as it deconstructs American women's insecurities in general, and in particular their anxious attitude about body weight. Yet Holofcener's light touch remains superficial, rarely delving deeply into the psychological or emotional depths that such issues can withstand. And as the characters make attempts to improve their lives, their choices and behavior can be off-putting."


There are several films playing that depict grownups groping for love in the wrong ways and the wrong places. Never Again stars Jeffrey Tambor and Catherine Keener as middle-aged singles who strike up an intense sexual relationship during a chapter of their lives when many have given up on such pursuits. Again, the actors are given high praise but the script receives poor marks.

"Never Again veers wildly off course from the first scene," says J. Robert Parks (The Phantom Tollbooth). "[It's] an utter disaster … except that the two lead actors are so fantastic and their quiet scenes with each other so compelling that I was willing to put up with all the nonsense, at least for a while."


Here's a sweet little story (irony alert) about a teenager who wants to seduce his stepmother and ends up having a sexual awakening with mom's best friend instead. Tadpole joins a trend of recent movies in which the heroes engage in morally questionable behavior on the road to self-discovery. The film stars Aaron Stanford as the sexually eager 15-year old, and Sigourney Weaver plays the grown, married woman he has targeted for conquest. Bebe Neuwirth plays Diane, another grown woman who is all too willing to give the boy an "education."

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Tadpole, according to the USCCB's critic, falls short of portraying sin and consequences in a satisfactory manner. The reviewer asks if this might be the opposite of a 'chick flick'. "Films like Tadpole are rarely given a gender specification. A story such as this one, even when it's played for laughs, nonetheless seems to be courting a male audience, and for all the wrong reasons. One can't shake the feeling that the whole story is some male adolescent fantasy. The actors do a fine job with the limited roles, but the film is artificial in its construction and superficial in its philosophical and moral outlook."


Robert Evans's documentary The Kid Stays in the Pictureexplores his own successes and failures as a Hollywood producer. (Evans produced such classics as The Godfather, Rosemary's Baby, and Chinatown.) Evans's affairs—business and romantic—are detailed along with the scandal in which it was alleged that he was involved in the "Cotton Club" murder.

Phil Boatwright calls it an "incisive and involving look at the behind the scenes lifestyle of one of Tinseltown's most colorful players. But check out the content before deciding to attend." He cautions potential viewers about foul language, brief violent images, and sensual imagery.

Still Cooking

K-19: The Widowmaker received further responses from Christian media critics (writing in both religious and mainstream publications) this week. Kathryn Bigelow's submarine film continues to impress viewers with its suspense and riveting true-life drama. (See earlier responses here.)

Peter T. Chattaway (Vancouver Courier) says, "The film is longer than it needs to be, thanks to a gratuitous epilogue, and it plays into that Black Hawk Down mentality of disconnecting military valor from the politics that are served by that valour. At its best, though, K-19 is a suspenseful film that sheds light on a little-known part of our recent history"

David Bruce (Hollywood Jesus) examines how the story shows God working great things for the world by changing the heart of one man. "The centerpiece in the film is the transformation of the Harrison Ford character from a heartless institutional man to a caring individual. Somehow God is in the backdrop of history working things out. This film illustrates in graphic detail just how close we came to blowing up Planet Earth. In every crisis event God is there, truly. Otherwise humanity would simply no longer exist."

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Others caught up with John Sayles's latest film, Sunshine State. This complex web of stories about a Florida island community emphasizes the rewards of being adaptable in a changing world and the dangers of romanticizing the past. This tension is clear not only in a confrontation between wealthy developers and the community's longtime residents, but in the troubled relationships of a single restaurateur, her parents, and her public (Earlier reviews here).

Darrel Manson (Hollywood Jesus) praises the film as "a valuable chance to consider the world we are in not only on the surface, but also behind the smiles and the tears that make up life. Sunshine State has been called preachy and didactic, and that's a fair assessment. But it is important for us to look at the tension of the real and the perceived. And Sayles does a good job of showing us many of the ways that we cover over the realities that we wish to avoid."

I bought a ticket this week as well, and found it to be one of the most truthful and rewarding films I've seen this year. The actors, especially Edie Falco, Angela Bassett, Timothy Hutton, and James McDaniel, are completely convincing in their complex roles. It is refreshing to see a film that shows how challenging and confusing it can be to love one another. Most mainstream tales would have you believe that broken relationships and fractured communities can be easily fixed with a confession, some tears, and some laughter right on into "happily ever after." By portraying the bitter with the sweet, Sayles's world is far more realistic, and thus when it arrives at a hopeful conclusion we are left with more than pithy platitudes. (My full review is at Looking Closer.)

So, if moviegoers bypass the Powers that be and seek out more rewarding fare like Signs and Sunshine State, they might find that summertime at the movies isn't a waste of time after all.