Review: Austin Powers in Goldmember

As in the first sequel, a lame plot ties together a hit-and-miss grab bag of familiar jokes, some funny, some terrible.

This is not as big a disappointment as the previous entry in the AUSTIN POWERS franchise, THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME, but it does continue down the same dead end: more gross-out bathroom “humor” and less genuine wit and cleverness. Once spoofs of spy movie and pop culture clichés, the series now is a repository of its own set of clichés, which it trots out with as much adherence to formula as the films it used to lampoon. Which is not to say that the film is all bad—much of it is hilarious—but you have to sit through a lot of crap (literally) in order to enjoy the good jokes scattered throughout.

Perhaps the best thing about the film is the most underused: Michael Caine as Austin’s dad, Nigel. Caine seems so effortlessly authentic during his limited screen time that it points out how much a put on Michael Myers’s performance is in the role of Austin. Fortunately, this doesn’t totally undermine Myers. As Austin, he was always about how someone who acted hip could actually be a clown, and that fact that he comes across like Caine revved up two or three notches too high just emphasizes the point: he’s trying too hard to achieve something genuine that’s out of his reach, so he has to settle be being louder and flashier.

Caine makes the film watchable whenever he’s on, but too much time is wasted on the new super villain, Goldmember (also played by Myers), who is merely annoying (his accent) when he’s not disgusting (his habit of eating his own peeling skin). What any of this has to do with spy movies and pop culture is anyone’s guess, as is the return of Fat Bastard (Myers yet again), who provides most of the toilet humor that grinds the film to a halt at regular intervals.

The problem with the Austin Powers sequels is that the really good idea that fueled the original is burnt out: In INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY, Austin was a man out of his own time, a walking anachronism fighting an evil villain in order to save a world that was no longer his world. The sight of that Sixties Swinger plopped down in the 1990s generated lots of humor that came easily and naturally. But now that Powers has adapted (not only to the 20th but also the 21st century), there’s nothing left to do but pop back and forth in time, as if that will somehow recreate the chemistry of the first film.

But hey, nobody’s expecting brilliance and sophistication from these films. As long as they serve up lots of laugh, that should be enough. And for whole sequences in this film, it does seem like enough: Number 2 (Robert Wagner) earns legitimate money for Dr. Evil (Myers) by fronting the operation with a talent agency, which allows him to maintain the “ethics” of an evil empire; a motorized float that runs out of control on a Tokyo street resembles Godzilla, but one of the fleeing residents points out that “It may look like Godzilla, but due to international copyright law, it’s not; and Austin Powers receives word that Mini-Me has switched sides only after a protracted, farcical battle.

With these and other scenes on the plus side, it’s too bad that the film is padded with too many scenes that are boring or, even worse, simply lame. There’s a long flashback that shows Austin during his school days; coincidentally, his classmates include Dr. Evil, Basil Exposition, and Number 2. Is this a spoof of Hollywood’s habit of foolishly squeezing a lifetime of back-story into a single sequence (a la the opening of INDIANNA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE)? No, it simply is a further example of foolishly squeezing a lifetime of back-story into a single sequence. As if that weren’t bad enough, the ending succumbs to the sort of temptation that was flirted with and discarded in the previous sequel (remember Dr. Evil’s “Austin, I am your father” line?). This might be okay if the film were skewering clichéd twist endings, but it’s not. It’s just serving up another one and asking you to accept it, because after all, this is a comedy, so it shouldn’t matter if the story sucks.

Of course, none of this really matters. The first AUSTIN POWERS was a surprise hit; the second was a certified blockbuster. No doubt GOLDMEMBER will continue the series success. Fans will continue to flock, drawn by the stench of Fat Bastard’s flatulence jokes. But those looking for a spy spoof that actually takes on the genre clichés and has some good, funny ideas, should check out the much funnier and much smarter UNDERCOVER BROTHER, which also came out in 2002.

AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER (2002). Director: Jay Roach. Writers: Mike Myers & Michael McCullers. Cast: Mike Myers, Michael Caine, Beyonce Knowles, Seth Green, Michael York, Robert Wagner, Mindy Sterling

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.