NOW PLAYING: Austin Powers in Goldmember

Posted: Sunday, July 28, 2002

Everything's coming up roses for Mike Meyers. His legal troubles with Imagine Entertainment (Ron Howard sued him because he backed out of a movie version of his SNL sketch, Sprockets) have fixed themselves nicely. He has recently inked a deal to play The Cat in the Hat for that same studio. Reports in the press of his being a "difficult" actor to work with have finally died down, and best of all, his wildly yet bafflingly successful alter ego, Austin Powers, is back with a surefire hit. Myers must surely be feelin' groovy.

No one would have guessed that a goofy movie about a swinging spy, frozen in the sixties and then reanimated in the nineties to battle his nemesis (also frozen and then reanimated) could have been such an amazing success. And actually, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, wasn't that successful. It ended up making $54 million at the box office, more than it cost to make, but not enough to inspire confidence for a string of sequels. It was only after it appeared on video that our hero's staying power became truly evident. Austin Powers sold so many copies that The Spy Who Shagged Me was only a matter of time. When it appeared it made more money in its first weekend than its predecessor made during its entire run. It was bigger, wilder, dumber, and smarter all at the same time. Like marketing geniuses, filmmakers used the first Austin as a testing ground for audience approval, reapplying what worked, dumping what didn't. Critics complained that the sequel was just a bunch of recycled jokes, but what they failed to see was that they were done better than before. With Goldmember, Meyers has done it again.

The whole production feels cranked up a notch. Those gags that worked from The Spy Who Shagged Me, i.e. Mini-Me, Fat Bastard, and celebrity cameos, are expanded even further here. Those aspects of Spy that didn't work, i.e. Heather Graham's wooden acting, are excised. In her place is singer and first-time actress Beyonc Knowles as a seventies you-go-girl vixen named Foxxy Cleopatra. Also new to the story are Power's father, played with goofy grace by legend Michael Caine, and the title villain, Goldmember himself. A Dutch industrialist and roller-disco king, Goldmember earned his name after a bizarre smelting accident.

In typical Austin Powers fashion, the story isn't much to look at, and isn't really the point. Dr. Evil, joining powers with Goldmember, wants to hold the world hostage once again. And once again it's up to Austin to stop him. The wrinkle is Austin's father Nigel has been kidnapped by the pair. Ok, fine, but what we really go to these films for is the interactions between the characters. Dr. Evil and son Scott's incessant bickering, and his inexplicable devotion to Mini-Me. Austin's libidinous banter with party goers at his swinging pad, and the way he constantly lays bare the idiocy of both his and most movie's plots. All those elements are present in Goldmember, but unfortunately, in the attempt to up the ante, Meyers sacrifices some of these familiar interactions for the sake of his ever expanding storyline. The characters here seem slightly more grown up, and are more interested in the plot than they are in goofing around. A strange sort of criticism, I agree, but in a series prized for it's goofiness, it is a little worrisome. It doesn't hurt this production, particularly, but if the trend continues, the inevitable fourth film could lose its spark.

That aside, Goldmember is a blast. Raunchy and randy, clever and clueless, Austin Powers dances through life with hardly a care in the world. Without any of the gadgets that make up his much more serious counterpart, Powers uses his sheer obliviousness to save the day. Dr. Evil and son Scott again find that sometimes family issues get in the way of taking over the world, and Mini-Me struggles with his loyalties. Celebrity cameos abound, and the opening sequence is hilarious, as usual. In short, Mike Meyers has yet again figured out a way to recycle all the same old stuff and still make it hilarious. His villain may only be partly gilded, but the movie is all gold. Grade: B+

Austin Powers in Goldmember is rated PG-13 for raunchy humor.

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