Has Austin Powers lost his mojo? On the evidence of Austin Powers in Goldmember, the most self-reflexive and self-congratulatory sequel since Scream 3, it appears he has. What began as a clever, colorful little farce out of nowhere has now metastasized into a major going concern for New Line Cinema, which tasted franchise success with the Nightmare on Elm Street movies and apparently never got over it (how disappointed they must be that they can only get three movies out of The Lord of the Rings). I’m with the idea of an Austin Powers series in which Mike Myers can pursue and elaborate on fresh new ideas, but that’s far from the case here; this second sequel is almost entirely a reiteration of the first two.
Everyone is talking about the opening sequence, studded with big stars checking in for instant comedy cred, but it left a bad taste in my mouth; it’s as if the movie were telling us, “See how big we are now! If [big star unnamed to preserve surprise] thinks we’re cool, you should too!” From there, we settle into the by-now-familiar mechanics of an Austin Powers “plot”: eternally randy Austin (Myers) fending off lascivious Japanese twins; Basil Exposition (Michael York) dropping in and depositing plot points; and the tag team of Dr. Evil (Myers) and his clone Mini-Me (Verne Troyer), who once again strive for world domination.
Myers and co-writer Michael McCullers toss in three new elements, all of which sound better on paper than they play onscreen. Too much time is spent on Austin’s hurt feelings towards his superspy dad Nigel Powers (Michael Caine), who never gave Austin much attention; this neatly transforms Austin from an independently funny character to a resentful son trying to compete with his dad, and Caine, clearly eager to cut loose and spoof himself (his Harry Palmer spy movies, after all, were a key inspiration for Myers in creating Austin), just isn’t given the material. The idea of him as Austin’s dad is far better than the execution. And this sort of thing was funnier in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The shagadelic babe this time out is Foxxy Cleopatra (Beyoncé Knowles), a Pam Grier knock-off Austin revisits when travelling back in time to 1975 to locate his kidnapped dad. Beyoncé Knowles has a warmer, fresher presence than the previous two non-actresses (Elizabeth Hurley and Heather Graham) who have filled this slot, but typically she doesn’t get a lot to do except being kicked repeatedly by New Element #3, who really sinks the movie. In latex and outfits that make him look like Ben Gazzara playing a gay track coach, Myers bravely tackles the role of “Goldmember,” a Dutch mastermind in cahoots with Dr. Evil. This character is so laughless, conceived in such puerile terms, that he almost makes the laboriously grotesque Fat Bastard (yes, he’s back, too) look like a charming, witty creation. If the franchise is getting too big for its bell-bottoms, maybe Myers is, too: At this point there may be nobody around him with enough clout to talk him out of a bad idea like Goldmember.
I laughed a few times, mostly at playful bits like white subtitles against partially white backgrounds, or a sight gag that suggests an unprintable kink (someone at the MPAA must like Myers — the past two Austin Powers films have fluttered dangerously close to the flame of a kid-prohibitive R rating). But most of it is rehash, and smug rehash at that. By the time a well-known (and overexposed) TV family familiar from the past year makes its rote appearance, you know this one’s not for the time capsule (half the jokes will be incomprehensible in twenty years); it’s for a big opening weekend in 2002. Austin Powers in Goldmember congratulates you for being in the Austin Powers fan club, and congratulates itself for having such a big fan club. Mike Myers needs to have another humbling flop (like, say, Wayne’s World 2), so that he can go back to the woodshed, cogitate and write for four years, and emerge with something out of left field — which is exactly how the first Austin Powers came about. Unfortunately, Goldmember won’t be that flop.