MIKE MYERS' LEFT-FIELD GOOF OF A COMEDY franchise has already lasted longer than anybody had a right to expect. The first installment, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery -- an oddly sui generis spoof on the James Bond series, and probably funniest the third time you saw it -- was only a moderate theatrical success before going on to find mass popularity in its video and cable afterlife. The second film, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, was a consolidation of the first, a greatest-hits package, and grossed more in its first three days than the previous film did in its entire theatrical run. With returns like that, a third installment was inevitable.
Austin Powers in Goldmember finds the swinging, snaggle-toothed secret agent battling a nefarious scheme that includes a kidnapping, a Star Warslike tractor beam, and traveling back in time to 1975. Why 1975 is not exactly clear, other than that it lays down a runway for flashy new costumes and some jokes about roller-disco, plus an opportunity to provide its "syupah" hero with a blaxploitation-derived sidekick, Foxxy Cleopatra (Destiny's Child diva and hair-care spokesperson Beyoncé Knowles, doing a spirited if unimpressive imitation of Pam Grier). But to demand logic or narrative cohesion of Myers, his co-writer, Michael McCullers, or director Jay Roach is to be something of a stick-in-the-mud. The basic premise of the Austin Powers cycle -- '60s swinger in uptight nowadays -- has proved to be a remarkably elastic one, giving the filmmakers an extremely broad field from which to pick their satirical targets. At times feeling like a college revue or last month's Mad magazine, the movie includes references to Spider-Man and The Osbournes, a handful of cameos by Really Big Celebrities, and jokes along the way about Britpop, trucker movies, subtitling, Hollywood talent agencies, Viagra, rap videos, those frickin' Dutch and the way asparagus makes your pee smell funny. In other words, "When in doubt, tell a toilet joke." The laugh always comes first, and Myers' puppy-dog tenacity to that cast-iron tenet of low comedy, disarming and even somewhat charming in the first film, now has an air of careerist desperation about it.
Probably the series' biggest liability (after lazy plotting) is that none of the secondary villains can top the original Dr. Evil (Myers again), a sharper, wittier creation than Austin Powers himself. Far from adding anything substantial to the mix, new character Goldmember (and again), along with the previously introduced Fat Bastard (and yet again), ends up playing to the series' overall weaknesses. The real added value here comes from Michael Caine's appearance as Austin's father, Nigel. Appearing in essentially three scenes, he brings an offhanded, easygoing charm to his part, a take on his own '60s spy character, Harry Palmer. Unfortunately, Caine is also saddled with the task of delivering the film's ridiculous final plot twist, whereby the true nature of the relationship between Austin and Dr. Evil is revealed.
Resistance, however, is futile in the face of the sound commerce these films have become. Like a group of deranged comedy scientists, Myers and Co. know just how long they can flail about for stray laughs before delivering a sure-fire set piece (many of these simply extensions of jokes from the previous films) that jolts the audience awake. Austin Powers in Goldmember could (generously) be thought of as an extended parody of the Roger Mooreera Bond films, which filled their quotas of girls, gadgets and action, but for the sake of which no one was exactly rocking the boat. Formula must be followed, after all -- and, like one of his power-mad nemeses, Austin Powers will certainly be back.
AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER | Directed by JAY ROACH | Written by MIKE MYERS and MICHAEL McCULLERS Produced by JOHN LYONS and MYERS | Released by New Line Cinema | Citywide
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