Austin Powers in Goldmember

The Austin Powers persona has been wholeheartedly accepted by the mainstream media as the heart of all that swings and sways. A snickering adolescent dream has become a dominant media fantasy. This is not only evident in the opening credits of the movie (a series of brilliant opening scenes, alone worth the price of the ticket) but also in the kind of references that have become commonplace in print and on the air. A recent New York Times review of a book about London in the swinging sixties was written in the voice of Austin Powers with words like “Shagadelic” and “Oh behave” bandied about freely. It was a small conceit, but it demonstrated the now pervasive influence of Austin Mania. Austin Powers–the foul-mouthed double entendre spewing pubescent-minded sleuth–has finally achieved so much respectability that he has become an icon of the very culture he derides.

And about time. Austin Powers is the kind of zestful filmmaking that not only brings out the laughs but also delivers the youthful energy it so vociferously supports. The first and second installments of the series are now remembered not only for their gross-out humor and scatological references but also for their innovative patterns of laughter-inducing material. They introduced a brand of screwball comedy never seen before on the screen: the montage of screens where conversations in one screen are completed in the other to create naughty references to unmentionable body parts, the notion of someone walking around naked while the camera is blocked by objects placed in strategic places, the use of imaginative silhouettes to suggest the grossest sex acts, white males breaking out into rap gangster music. Austin Powers introduced all this and presented it with aplomb.

Austin Powers and Dr. Evil (both played by Mike Myers) have faced off in the last two movies with neither getting the best of the other. Goldmember continues in this tradition. The plotline this time is as thin as the previous ones and though there is a kind of a wallop in the tale at the end, it is treated by the movie as a parody of its own storyline. Dr. Evil is captured by Austin Powers. Dr. Evil, being who he is, manages to escape from prison. In the meantime, another villainous character is introduced–a Dutch criminal named Goldmember (also played by Mike Myers) because his genitalia are made of gold. Why this is so is something that Dr. Evil himself explains in painful detail. Dr. Evil and Goldmember team up to kidnap Austin Power’s father, Nigel (suave Michael Caine). Powers travels back to the seventies to search for his father and meets his old flame, the buxom Foxxy Cleopatra (ravishing Beyonce Knowles), singing disco music in Studio 69 in New York. As with Caine, Knowles is used more as a prop than as an actor.

Goldmember has many funny moments, the best of whcih deal with Dr. Evil and Austin Powers as young kids in school. Also, as usual, Dr. Evil does his rap act–this time in prison–and the music might just remind you of “It’s a Hard Knock Life” from Annie. Of course, Dr. Evil’s comic interludes with his son, Scott Evil (Seth Green) and Mini Me (Verne Troyer) continue to resonate; Zzzzzzipit! still has a lot of zip in it. Fred Savage (The Wonder Years TV series) has a small but extremely amusing role. But lest any one accuse Goldmember of just another gross fest, there is a wonderful sequence where Caine and Myers speak to each other in British idiomatic English, all but incomprehensible to American audiences without subtitles, which are gleefully provided. Goldmember continues the Austin Powers tradition of innovating while sticking to the mandatory bathroom humor machine.

The only quibble one might have with Goldmember is the continued presence of Fat Bastard. In this role Myers plays out the choicest (in a manner of speaking) of his gross jokes on flatulence and nipples. It’s as if he is so caught up in his adolescent dreams that he cannot let go of his worst nightmare, that of an obscenely fat, triple-chinned gross-out character who ultimately does more harm than good to the movie’s narration. Goldmember would be perfectly coherent even if all the scenes with Fat Bastard were cut.

Goldmember repeats the old gags again and again and then some more. But these gags have become a part of the style and tempo of the Austin Powers franchise and not merely its content. Removing them would be like asking Agatha Christie to remove the languorous suspense from her novels, or to ask Michael Jackson to avoid break-dancing in his concerts. Expect many laughs, but no surprises.

– Nigam Nuggehalli