Film Reviews: Wednesday, July 25, 2002
Powering Up

The shagadelic secret agent’s newest assignment goes better than his last one.


The third movie in its franchise, Austin Powers in Goldmember doesn’t suck. If that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, just remember how hard the second movie, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, sucked. That second one, which came out in 1999, was just a blatant opportunity for Mike Myers and his cohorts to cash in on the slowly building popularity of the original 1997 film. He’s had more time to prepare the material for this film, and the results are happier. The third movie does what the second movie should have done: Instead of simply recycling all the best routines from the original movie, it just refers to them briefly or puts a twist on them. Some of them are omitted altogether — Austin doesn’t get naked, thank goodness. The movie comes out marginally recommendable, and even when it fails, its efforts make it more honorable — as far as the term “honorable” can be applied to a movie with so many pissing jokes.

The plot involves Dr. Evil (Myers) threatening to destroy the world by teaming up with a Dutch supervillain named Goldmember (Myers again), who’s so named because, as Dr. Evil explains, “his love of gold led him to lose his genitalia in a smelting accident.” Austin (Myers once more) catches Dr. Evil and throws him in jail, but Goldmember responds by kidnapping Austin’s superspy father, Nigel Powers (Michael Caine). Austin has to recruit secret agent Foxxy Cleopatra (R&B singer Beyoncé Knowles) to save his father and the world.

The movie gets off to a flying start with Austin engaged in a motorcycle and helicopter chase in the desert which looks straight out of an expensive Mission: Impossible-type action thriller. It turns out to be a movie within a movie, with Hollywood megastars portraying Austin, Dr. Evil, and the rest of the gang. The sequence segues effortlessly into an opening-credit dance number, during which Austin and his female dancers invade a Britney Spears music-video shoot and send Britney and her male dancers scurrying home in defeat. The movie never gets that good again, but then that’s pretty good.

Since most of the movie’s star cameos take place in that opening sequence, they don’t interfere with the main story. The film can’t avoid another common affliction of sequels, however: the tendency to bring back all the best characters from the previous films while trying to introduce new ones as well. Back for a third go-around are Sir Basil Exposition (Michael York), Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling), and Number Two (Robert Wagner). As far as the new characters go, Goldmember isn’t memorable; from his first line, you can smell the writers’ desperation: “I am from Holland! Isn’t that weird?” Austin’s dad doesn’t add anything, which is a shameful waste of Caine’s considerable comic talent. Number Two gets a Number Three (Fred Savage), and that falls flat, too. There’s nothing inspired about Foxxy Cleopatra, either, but Beyoncé Knowles has the right attitude, which makes her a definite improvement over Elizabeth Hurley and Heather Graham.

One detail that’s interesting, though I’m not sure what the point of it is: The movie’s got patrimonial issues all over the place, what with Austin’s unsatisfactory relationship with his father, and Dr. Evil discovering the truth about his own father, not to mention Dr. Evil’s son Scott Evil (Seth Green) trying to usurp the place of Mini-Me (Verne Troyer) in his dad’s affections. That last subplot gives more comic opportunities to Troyer, who makes even more of Mini-Me than he did in The Spy Who Shagged Me, and to Green, who blows his chances. He’s cut out to play quiet and subtly weird guys, not showoff-y cackling villains.

As you might expect, the material is as hit-or-miss as the performances. There’s a diverting flashback to Austin’s days at a spy academy in the late 1950s, where Dr. Evil is a classmate. (As with the opening sequence, it’s a relief to see actors other than Myers playing these characters.) Austin’s time-travel to 1975 gives the movie’s production crew a chance to translate the franchise’s 1960s look into the next decade. On the other hand, the bad material still results in lots of dead air and scenes going on too long, and Myers is still too fond of penis and poop jokes, much of the latter emanating from Fat Bastard (Myers for the last time) — honestly, what do the filmmakers see in this guy? Even Dr. Evil’s prison rendition of Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life” is funnier on the soundtrack c.d. than it is on the screen.

The movie ends by setting up Scott Evil as the supervillain for a potential future film, but that’s a mistake. It’s borderline tragic that after all this time, Myers still doesn’t realize where the heart of this franchise is. Austin Powers may be who we want to be, but Dr. Evil is us, with his grandiose ambitions, his ineptitude, and his unaccountable soft spots for hip-hop music and a midget clone. If Myers would forget about Fat Bastard for a while and make his movies a little more Evil, we might really have something.

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