Austin Powers in Goldmember (United States, 2002)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

When Mike Myers and Jay Roach introduced the world to Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery in 1997, their intention was to make a one-off spoof of James Bond movies and '60s culture. The movie did okay at the box office, then exploded in popularity once it hit home video. The result was 1999's Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, which achieved blockbuster status. Thus was born another franchise with deeper roots in money and popularity than in creativity. Would the movie-going world be any worse off without Austin Powers in Goldmember? Absolutely not, but New Line Cinema wanted their piece of the 2002 summer box office, and this was their only legitimate shot at it. (It's hard to take issue with them, though, since they risked a lot of money on Peter Jackson's initially unproven The Lord of the Rings trilogy.)

In all fairness to the film, it is superior to the disappointing second movie in the series. The comedy is about as low-brow as it can get (at least without treading into R-rated territory). There are characters named "Fook Mi" and "Fook Yu", a mole the size of a fingernail, and the obligatory sexual innuendo. Gross-out humor abounds, from the flatulence of Fat Bastard to the truly disgusting behavior of the newest villain, Goldmember (who peels off bits of dried skin and eats them). And the movie isn't hard-up for penis jokes, which comprise about 1/3 of the film's laugh-inducing material. Subtle witticisms and incisive satire are not common - those elements would be above the heads of the target teen audience. Not that the avalanche of crude humor is all bad. When it works, it can be hilarious (as is the case on several occasions). But when it fails, it comes across as badly conceived and juvenile. (The "looser" you are, the more likely you are to appreciate Goldmember - not that I'm advocating imbibing beforehand.)

For Goldmember, the versatile Mike Myers adds a fourth character. In addition to playing Austin, his nemesis Dr. Evil, and the unbelievably obese Scotsman Fat Bastard (who's only in a few scenes), Myers essays Goldmember, a twisted associate of Dr. Evil who lost his genitals in a smelting accident. Goldmember, who looks like a Star Trek reject, wants to destroy the world using a tractor beam (codenamed "Preparation H") aimed at a solid gold asteroid. For some reason, he has also kidnapped Austin's dad, Nigel. As the International Man of Mystery's father, Michael Caine has an opportunity to put his mimicry skills to the test (Nigel evidences many of the same mannerisms as Austin). Caine, who was Harry Palmer in the '60s series of spy movies based on Len Deighton's novels, gets a chance to try out the lighter side of the kind of character he once played seriously. Beyoncé Knowles is Blaxsploitation-inspired Foxxy Cleopatra, Austin's latest love interest. While the "Destiny's Child" performer shows better comic timing than Heather Graham, she displays minimal screen presence and fades into the background whenever possible. Fred Savage, all grown up, is Number Three, a man with an obvious facial disfigurement. And the "regulars" - Basil Exposition (Michael York), Number Two (Robert Wagner), Scott Evil (Seth Green), Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling), and Mini-Me (Verne J. Troyer) - are all back.

As was true of the previous Austin Powers films, this one uses the saturation approach to comedy - throw so many jokes at the audience that, even if only a fraction of them stick, the final product will be deemed funny. When Goldmember is delivering its best material, it's a highly entertaining experience. The first ten minutes represent the movie's pinnacle - a cameo-rich sequence that starts out as a parody of a spoof before turning into a surreal musical production number. Later, there are naughty subtitles and a vulgar-but-clever bit featuring some unusual "shadow puppetry". There's also a gratuitous trip back to the '70s that features new lyrics to some K.C. and the Sunshine Band tunes and a brief lip-synching appearance by Nathan Lane. In between all of this, however, we are treated to a lot of grotesque comedy that's more likely to turn stomachs than provoke laughter, re-treads of jokes from the other Austin Powers outings, and new stuff that lacks inspiration or dilutes its source material. (The "Fook Mi/Fook Yu" routine echoes Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" and the Mole-on-the-Face-Avoidance recalls a skit from "The Germans" episode of "Fawlty Towers".)

One of the blessings of Goldmember is that it's only 90 minutes long, but, after three Austin Powers installments, that's 4 1/2 hours spent in the company of this goofy band of characters. Qualities that were once amusing are becoming irritating. It's a tribute to the popularity of the International Man of Mystery that he's still going strong, even if comedic aptitude of his adventures is losing steam. (Austin Powers is no Inspector Closeau, but he could end up becoming as long-running a character as the Blake Edwards/Peter Sellers creation.) If Mike Myers and Jay Roach want to get out of the rut they have fallen into, they're going to have to do a little innovation next time Austin Powers reaches the screens.

Austin Powers in Goldmember (United States, 2002)

Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2002-07-26
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1