Austin Powers in Goldmember

(2002) *** Pg-13
96 min. New Line. Director: Jay Roach. Cast: Mike Myers, Seth Green, Robert Wagner, Verne Troyer, Michael Caine.

Bondian superpies and cat-stroking villains haven't been fresh parodic targets for decades now, but Mike Myers--through force of comic talent--parlayed Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery into a franchise that seems poised to pursue 007 himself for longevity (after publicly insisting in the recent past that the third Powers film would be the last, Myers has surrendered himself to indefinite sequels). But if Austin Powers in Goldmember isn't the last word on the subject, it should be.

That's not to say that Myers isn't still capable of gleeful free association comedy and impressive character creations. It's not even to say that this second sequel is bad (like the franchise's funhouse mirror cousin--Star Wars--the sheer quantity of creative material, hit or miss be damned, defangs criticism). But the ability of Myers (and three-time Powers director Jay Roach) to keep his balls in the air shows evident strain.

Balls, of course, are only one important feature of Austin Powers in Goldmember. Also important are penises, breasts, vaginas, and anuses. I'm pretty sure there was a plot, as well, which necessitated introducing Michael Caine as Austin's absentee father and trippin' back to the 70s to pick up Beyonce Knowles's Foxxy Cleopatra and raise the dander of roller-skating disco Dutch supervillain Goldmember (Myers). Of course, Myers's other characters all return: the rabid, horny superspy Austin Powers, the supervillainous Dr. Evil, and the appropriately named Scottish henchman Fat Bastard. Also returning for more are Scott Evil (Seth Green), Mini-Me (Verne Troyer), Basil Exposition (Michael York), Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling), and Number Two (Robert Wagner, whose Rob Lowe alter ego is only glimpsed).

As usual, the film dispenses with internal logic, so don't ask questions (like how is it that, in a flashback, Basil Exposition is in the same prep school class as Austin and Dr. Evil?). Goldmember is even less concerned with plot proportion than its predecessors. Instead, Myers, co-screenwriter Michael McCullers, and Roach focus on building wall-to-wall comedy. It's a fast-paced onslaught of extensive genital jokery, a pop culture Cuisinart serving up bits of four-plus decades of cinema and music with the not-so-secret cannibalistic ingredient of itself.

It's a comedy maxim to steal from the best, and sometimes the shameless ripoffs are too smooth to heckle (in a gag ripped off from Airplane's jive talkers, Austin and his father's British lingo is subtitled; the hilarious frame to the story twists, slightly, the Hollywood spoofery of Pee Wee's Big Adventure). But the returns to gags or whole sequences from previous Powers films--even when reworked (like the replacement of Will Smith's version of "Just the Two of Us" with Jay-Z's version of "Hard Knock Life")--may test audiences when the old chestnuts so handily overshadow any new material.

Balding, freckled, double-jointed, skin-peeling Johann Van Der Smut a.k.a. Goldmember (who looks like Curt Jurgens but sounds more like Myers's idea of the undubbed Gert Frobe) won't unseat the other Myers creations in a popularity contest, but he's amusing. The mole on the upper lip of Fred Savage's Number Three repeatedly provides fodder for Myers's elaborate, mugging wordplay. The biggest and timeliest cameos adorn this one (will he top these with American presidents?). And, yes, Mini-Me becomes Mini-Austin, leading to the biggest and guiltiest laughs of the picture.

But it wouldn't be an Austin Powers picture without frustrations to match the laughs. The costly (in money and screen time) boosting of scope which has haunted so many franchises crowds the hard-working Knowles and Caine to the margins; more relaxed plotting might have afforded them some breathing room (will a sequel sport five Myers characters? dare he not meet this expectation?).

In The Spy Who Shagged Me, Austin cracks, "Paging Dr. Freud!" and Myers's own brand of comedic therapy finds its glorious full fruition in Goldmember, both distinguishing this picture and, again, begging the point of doing this a fourth time. Myers initiated the Powers series in the devastating wake of his Anglophile father's death (hence Eric's Boy Productions). Here, we have not only Scott pleading for Dr. Evil's affection, but Austin pleading for his father's affection. Dr. Evil is purportedly inspired in part by Lorne Michaels (Myers's "evil" surrogate father in the Saturday Night Live years), and the Powers lads enact another search for a father's approval. Add the climactic plot twist and, as Linda Richman says, "Talk among yourselves."

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