Austin Powers in Goldmember
by Jon Bastian
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First, a quick recap. Your humble critic absolutely loved the original, Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery (forthwith AP1). With equal fervor in the opposite direction, he loathed Austin Powers, the Spy Who Shagged Me (forthwith AP2). So, what’s his verdict on the third installment of the film?
Painful. Absolutely painful.
Oh, not the film. I’m talking about my face. I laughed so often and so damn hard, that my face ached by the time it was over. I got to the point that I hoped the movie would stop being funny so I could get a break. No such luck. From first to last, including the closing credits, Austin Powers in Goldmember is the funniest, hippest, quickest and best of the three. It makes up for all the shortcomings of the second installment and then some, and then tops the formula created in the first.
As I remember it, AP2 started out on the wrong foot and never recovered. Goldmember, on the other hand, starts out absolutely right and just keeps getting better. From the moment we’re treated to a ludicrously over-the-top John Woo parody involving a Jaguar (the car, not the animal), a chopper (the aircraft, not the bike) and a flying Austin Powers, everything just feels right and the filmmakers have us. In the first five minutes of the film, they top that John Woo take-off with a sight gag that is too priceless to give away… and then top that… and top it again. And again. And again. By my count, they pull this off at least half a dozen times before they switch gears and get into the opening credits we’re expecting, the Austin Powers groovin’ to the theme. It’s a heady, self-referential, hilarious, wild opening, but what makes it work is that every single one of those gags is so right on the nose. A very smart move, because, by this point, you actively want to like this movie. Fortunately, you don’t have to try very hard to do so.
The plot, such as it is, is pretty light, but that doesn’t matter. This time around, the film is more about the characters, and Myers and company actually manage to bring some depth to Austin Powers (Mike Myers), Dr. Evil (Mike Myers), Mini-Me (Vern Troyer) and Scott Evil (Seth Green). A lot of the dynamics involve father and son issues on many levels, which is interesting because the original Austin Powers was inspired by the death of Mike Myers’ own father. While that might not have been apparent in earlier installments, the affection shows here, and it makes the comedy work even more.
The story in a nutshell: as Austin Powers is knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for finally capturing Dr. Evil, his moment of triumph is shattered as his father, Nigel Powers (Michael Caine) is a no-show. Shortly thereafter, Austin finds out that his father has been kidnapped by the nefarious Dutch madman Goldmember (Mike Myers). He makes a quick trip back to 1975 and the New York disco Studio 69 in order to save Dad. Meanwhile, Dr. Evil is plotting to bring Goldmember into the present in order to use his cold fusion invention to crash a solid gold asteroid into the polar ice caps, thereby causing a world-wide flood, unless his demands for lots of money are met. In the past, Austin runs into Foxy Cleopatra (Beyoncé Knowles), a jilted ex-flame, fails to rescue his father and encounters the very, very demented Goldmember. Everyone wisely returns to the present and the plots and father and son stories play out from there. But it’s not the story that matters. It’s the funny, and this film has funny in spades.
Often surreal but always entertaining, it doesn’t do justice to describe these moments, but one after another, they are hilarious. Many bits are notable. For example, there’s the mystery man at Studio 69 (Nathan Lane) who literally becomes a mouthpiece for Foxy Cleopatra as she disses Austin for his treatment of her back in the swingin’ 60s. The rules are quickly set up and then followed to a T, leading to some very strange but logically consistent… um… things. Scott Evil, though not having quite as much screen time as previously, really develops as a character as he becomes ever more demented in his quest to please — and become — daddy. Dr. Evil travels around in a submarine that, true to his inflated ego, is a model of himself and which is one of the funniest props ever created for film. Forget the flying Big Boy. The Dr. Evil sub comes off as a Mad Magazine parody brought to life. (It’s a testament to the film that one doesn’t even question how Dr. Evil could have gone so quickly from prison escapee to owner of a self-tribute piece of aquatic machinery. In this universe, it all just makes sense.)
Another high point is, oddly enough, a slam on one of the the low points of AP2. In that movie, about the only hilarious running gag was the series of “Dick/Not Dick” jokes as a very phallic missile flew through the sky. Unfortunately, the joke was ruined by being repeated. Here, they sort of repeat the joke with an errant satellite that resembles a pair of breasts. However, they go it several steps better by constantly changing the references and then, in an inspired bit of lunacy, drop in on the Osbournes as Ozzy complains, “Boobs. The producers are boobs. They’re just repeating the same
It just gets better from there. Whether it’s errant subtitles that change meaning on the wrong background, a character, Number Three (Fred Savage) with a rather prominent mole, Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling) in disguise as Southern White Trash, a flashback to young Austin and Dr. Evil in Spy School, a “not Godzilla due to international copyright law, although it resembles Godzilla” recreation of the assault on Tokyo, a bit of a Silence of the Lambs parody or a dozen other things, Austin Powers in Goldmember manages to nail it almost every time. No, not almost. Every. There isn’t a mis-step apparent here, and the entire film is perfection.
There’s not much more I can say about Austin Powers in Goldmember without giving too much away. All I can really say is that, like the first but not the second installment, this one is well worth seeing in a theatre. Bring a friend. Bring a bunch of friends. If you’re inclined to any kind of laughter-induced incontinence, then bring your Depends. But be prepared to laugh until you can’t anymore. After a mis-step in the middle, Austin is back, baby. And, breaking all rules of sequels, part three is better than the previous two combined.
Jon Bastian is a film, television and playwright living in his native Los Angeles. His latest adventures have taken him into the behind the scenes world of DVD and home Video, and he’s seen the LOTR DVD. Held it in his hands. It’s very nice. You must buy it. Now…
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