THE ADVENTURES OF PLUTO NASH This Eddie Murphy comedy has been sitting on a studio shelf since circa the time the wheel was first invented; it cost $100 million to make; it wasn't screened in advance for critics; and it grossed a paltry $2 million on its opening weekend. A review at this point might seem rather anti-climactic, but on the mere chance that there's somebody out there still intrigued at the prospect of seeing the diverse likes of John Cleese, Pam Grier and Burt Young all gracing the same film, I'm here to say it ain't worth the time, cost or deterioration of brain cells. The sad thing about this abysmal effort, set on the moon in the year 2087, isn't that it's terrible; it's that it's terrible without even being enjoyable in a bad-movie sorta way. Even the gang from the late, lamented Mystery Science Theater 3000 would have trouble finding much to riff off in this turkey, which is unremittingly dull more than anything else. Murphy plays the title character, an entrepreneur whose wildly successful moon-based nightclub becomes the focus for a shady gangster interested in muscling his way into the business. After his club gets destroyed, Nash takes it on the lam, dragging an aspiring singer (Rosario Dawson) and a horny robot (Randy Quaid, annoying but trying hard, bless his heart) along with him. Imagine if the Total Recall sets had been placed in a fire sale, and you'll get an idea of the film's drab visual scheme. As for the comedy quotient, I counted exactly two laughs, which breaks down to $50 million per chuckle -- definitely not a sound return on investment.
SIMONE Certainly the oddest picture to come out of Hollywood this summer, Simone stars Al Pacino as Viktor Taransky, a self-important but sincere director whose precarious community standing tumbles even further when his leading lady (Winona Ryder) walks off the set of his latest picture. All seems doomed until an inventor (Elias Koteas) provides him with a computer program that allows him to "create" a new lead for his film: an artificial being named Simone (an uncredited turn by model Rachel Roberts) that he's able to digitally insert into his movies. Soon, Simone turns out to be an international sensation, meaning Viktor has to work overtime to prevent anyone from discovering that this actress isn't even a real person. The extent of each individual filmgoer's charitable assessment of the picture will eventually determine their overall enjoyment, as Simone can be viewed from more than one angle. Is it an obvious and overblown comedy blissfully unaware of its own ludicrous plot twists, or is it a sharp satire that beautifully skewers our society's desperate need to worship at the altar of stardom? In other words, is writer-director Andrew Niccol aware that the movies Viktor makes look truly awful, and that Simone has no more personality or acting ability than your average bland supermodel (in which case the movie's mocking our susceptibility to manufactured goods), or does he mean for us to take the components of his film seriously (in which case he's as clueless as the masses he derides)? Considering Niccol wrote the razor-sharp The Truman Show, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but the result is still only partly successful, with some solid laughs scattered throughout a herky-jerky piece that remains more clever in theory than execution. 1/2
AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER Where the difference in quality between, say, Jaws and Jaws: The Revenge, or Psycho and Psycho III, can only be measured in light years, the three films in Mike Myers' Austin Powers series have been remarkably consistent, each one alternately soaring and sinking for the same reasons. In relating the groovy adventures of the 60s-era secret agent who finds himself transplanted in today's modern society, star-creator Myers and director Jay Roach will feature a great gag and then repeat it until it's run completely into the ground. This modus operandi alternates with the pair likewise taking a terrible gag (usually scatological in nature) and milking it for what little it's worth and then some. If we must compare, this third entry is better than the first but not as sharp as the second, with the high points consisting of a terrific opening sequence featuring several surprising cameos (including a few Oscar winners), the addition of Michael Caine as Austin's spy daddy, and an expanded role for Verne Troyer, again stealing all the scenes as the diminutive Mini-Me. Myers, as usual, has plenty of opportunities to mug it up, playing not only Austin but also his arch-nemesis Dr. Evil, returning villain Fat Bastard and a new criminal mastermind known as Goldmember (the least funny of the lot). How much you enjoy this will depend on your acceptance of the film's ratio of hit-to-miss nyuks. 1/2