I can’t remember whether I saw the original Austin Powers in the theater. Something makes me think I didn’t – I’m pretty sure that was the summer I dated three girls in three months. One would think that would mean I’d be at the movies even more frequently, but I’ve got better things to do on my dates than that. Yeah, baby!
I do know I saw the second Austin Powers film (The Spy Who Shagged Me) in the theater because I very vividly recall laughing my ass off at the infamous “silhouette” scene. That gag has been brought back but, like many things in Goldmember, it’s taken just a bit too far.
The third film in any successful film franchise – particularly one based on spoofs – is always a very tricky enterprise. Its success or failure can determine whether the series will perish (Naked Gun 33 1/3) or never end (the Bond films, Halloween). It’s particularly difficult when the films depend on a number of familiar gimmicks, a category the Austin Powers series falls into. The trick is to balance the familiar while doing one’s best to reinvent the franchise. In its effort to achieve this, Goldmember skirts success before unraveling into failure. Austin, played by franchise creator and Saturday Night Live alum Mike Myers, will have to work hard to keep the audience’s attention in the next film – if there is one.
The plot – what I could make of it – involves Dr. Evil (Mike Myers) employing a Dutch villain known as Goldmember (Myers again) to kidnap Austin’s secret agent father, Nigel Powers (Michael Caine, spoofing his role as Sergeant Harry Palmer in 1965’s The Icpress File – a bespectacled agent who was partly the inspiration for Austin himself). This kidnapping seems to serve no purpose other than getting the captured Dr. Evil transferred to a minimum security prison (see above), where the good doctor and his diminutive clone, Mini-Me (Verne Troyer), break out of the prison after an impromptu (and cinematically incongruous) rap video sequence.
It was rumored that the producers originally tried to get Sean Connery to play Austin’s father. I suspect the plan was to have Daddy Powers playing the straight man to Austin’s geeky walking libido. I can just see a dour Connery eyeing his “son” and saying, “Look at yourshelf. You call yourshelf a shecret agent? You’re a dishgraysh to Queen and Country. You make me shick.” A Connery playing it straight would have worked much better with the “Austin tries to win his father’s respect” subplot. As it is, Caine’s Nigel Powers, though imbued with Caine’s impeccable dry wit, is little more than an older version of Austin himself. That said, the film does feature one clever scene where Nigel and Austin hold a conversation in impossibly thick Cockney accents that would make the cast of The Full Monty proud.
There’s not much point on dwelling on the plot, so let’s get to the performances and the gags. Rounding out the cast is the new Powers girl, Foxxy Cleopatra, an amalgam of ’70s blaxploitation characters played by the likes of Pam Grier, but here portrayed by Destiny’s Child singer Beyonc Knowles. Knowles, I must point out, has some fantastic abs, and they threaten to steal half her scenes. But she plays the role with plenty of spunk and seems suprisingly comfortable with her new day job as an actor. Seth Green is back as Scott Evil, though there’s a lot less of him this time around – which is probably just as well. Now that I’ve learned more about Green, it has become quite clear to me he’s a complete geek who got a lucky break. In Goldmember he seems like a fanboy who’s tickled pink to be in an Austin Powers movie.
In the first two films it was obvious the best characters weren’t Austin & friends but Dr. Evil and his vicious little sidekick, Mini-Me. It was also evident that a little Evil went a long, long way, and those boring scenes with Austin were needed to heighten the hilarity when Dr. Evil appeared. It’s like how I always say New Englanders appreciate sunny days more than Californians because we have New England winters; through suffering, we truly appreciate the sublime. But in Goldmember we get even more Evil and Mini-Me than we did in Spy Who Shagged Me. True, they get some good scenes, such as a great send-up of The Silence of the Lambs and an amusing defection to the forces of good by Mini-Me, who promptly becomes Mini-Austin. But Dr. Evil started as a spoof of Blofeld and has become a spoof of himself. His best lines are throwaways, such as when Evil gets smacked in the groin and says, “Ouch, jeez, now let me count my balls…one, two, and three – good.”
There are a few holdovers from the previous films, but these often fall flat. For instance, Fat Bastard (Myers yet again) reappears to bring the movie to a screeching halt for about ten minutes. He is unfunny, disgusting, and offensive – period. The aforementioned silhouette scene gets a reprise, but this time its climax is, in this reviewer’s opinion, not only rather contrived and unfunny but really rather unpleasant. But judging from the laughs in the audience during that scene, it’s important to keep in mind this is just my opinion.
Finally, the pre-credit sequence, the details of which I will not reveal in the slightest, almost – almost – makes up for every fault in the rest of the film.
Ultimately, while I got more than a few laughs from Goldmember, I left the theater disappointed – a feeling that hasn’t dissipated, which is always my barometer for how good a film really is. There were two options for the makers of Goldmember in making a third film: go for broke and try to top the gags from the previous films, or introduce some character development and story to make us care about what’s on the screen. The latter could have been achieved with a straight Nigel Powers, but obviously the producers didn’t take that route. What we’re left with is a bunch of jokes and sight gags that, while amusing, have been around since the days of Airplane! and Police Squad. Here’s hoping the next Austin Powers movie will try to engage all our brain lobes.