Austin Powers in Goldmember Review

by Eugene Novikov (eugenen AT wharton DOT upenn DOT edu)
August 12th, 2002

Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)
Reviewed by Eugene Novikov

Starring Mike Myers, Beyonce Knowles, Seth Green, Robert Wagner, Michael Caine, Verne Troyer, Michael York.

Directed by Jay Roach.

Rated PG-13.

"You are a cunning linguist, but I am a master debator."
Austin Powers in Goldmember is probably below the standard Mike Myers has set for himself, which is to say, still a considerable cut above your average gross-out comedy. The sheer volume of successful gags Myers is able to pack into 90 minutes even when clearly not in top form is remarkable. The glee, the exuberance, the creative anarchy with which he works makes the experience of watching any of the films in the Powers franchise damn near inspirational. Goldmember may not be the best, but I want to see it again.
The virtuoso opening sequence shows off just how much Hollywood wattage the Canadian comic has attained since debuting his sleeper smash four years ago. Just about every movie star under the sun seems to be clamoring, or at least agreeing, to show his and/or her face under the Powers banner, and this second sequel seems to have chosen only the best. I won't reveal exactly who deigns to make an appearance -- that's obviously part of the fun, as the film's first five minutes elicited numerous gasps and startled chuckles out of the opening night audience. The barrage of guests continues through one of my favorite elements of the franchise: Powers' bizarre, by now obligatory, dance routine through the opening credits.

The plots of the Powers movies at first leapt back and forth between the 60's and the 90's, but now seem to be moving forward a decade per installment. This time around, Powers (Meyers) is dispatched to the 1970's to stop the latest world-takeover plot by the nefarious Dr. Evil (Meyers), in kahoots with a greedy night-club owner named Goldmember (Meyers). That name, by the way, isn't merely a play on words or a take-off of James Bond's Goldfinger, if you know what I mean.

Of course, most of the characters we know and love from International Man of Mystery and The Spy Who Shagged Me are back for another round. There's Fat Bastard (Meyers), the Scottish bagpipe player who famously ate a baby but has since gone on the Subway Diet and turned things around. Scott Evil (Seth Green) used to be Dr. Evil's cynical, cocky, disobedient son, but may now have a different fate. Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling) needs no introduction, as she's a funnier female counterpoint to the shagadelic Powers than either Heather Graham in Spy or Beyonce Knowles as the "all woman" Foxxy Cleopatra here. Oh, and this time Austin has to escape from the shadow of his great superspy father Nigel, a perfectly cast Michael Caine.
There are problems. Goldmember himself is used only sporadically, and isn't very funny when he does show up, with little to work with but an absurd Dutch accent and an unfortunate penchant for peeling and then eating dead skin. The movie also marks the second time in a row that Roach and Myers have failed to match the latter with a compelling female lead; Like Goldmember, Foxxy Cleopatra doesn't have much to do, and though Knowles, like Graham, looks good in skimpy outfits, she makes absolutely no impression.

But although these are legitimate quibbles, they pale in comparison with Goldmember's virtues. Myers is incomparable in his ability to stretch a gag to its absolute breaking point, milking every possible laugh from a comic idea, as evidenced in the redoubtable, soon-to-be-famous scene in which Austin has to pose as a tinkling fountain. I've also somehow managed not to tire of the countless scenes in which Austin, appearing only as a silhouette on a screen, or a tent, or a sheet, unknowingly simulates different anatomical functions.

The absurdist, long, hysterical set pieces aside, Myers is similarly the master of the throwaway gag; indeed, what I thought to be Goldmember's single funniest moment seemed to blow by most everyone in the audience (I don't want to reveal it; e-mail me if you care). I stand by my long-held opinion that the Austin Powers franchise exhibits uncommonly high-brow humor, brilliantly ingenious and not always easy to grasp.

But mostly, it's the infectious energy of Myers (and Roach, I suppose, though one wonders how much creative control he is given; I suspect that his presence may be akin to Roger Christian on the set of Battlefield: Earth) as he romps across the screen that makes me a fan of this hugely popular series. At the beginning of International Man of Mystery, as Myers pranced along the streets of London with a marching band, trapeze artists and Nigel knows what else, I could only shake my head in wide-eyed disbelief, thinking that some twisted genius had to choreograph all this. Goldmember may reveal more of the cogs and wheels churning behind what has undoubtedly become more of a commercial venture, but the films' unhinged enthusiasm hasn't faded. When I read letters to the editor in my local paper claiming that Myers is doing nothing than wasting the nation's time with his endless tirade of potty jokes and alleged infantilism, I am saddened. Austin Powers is an asset to American cinema.

Grade: B+

Up Next: Lovely and Amazing

2002 Eugene Novikov

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