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The Powers That Shouldn’t Be

A franchise continues on a riff and a fart in Austin Powers in Goldmember.



It’s five years later, and I still don’t know how he does it. Mike Myers has made a mint and become a megastar with a franchise movie series that defies every notion about franchise movie series. This Canadian comedian, the quintessential smart guy’s dumb guy, has created the most improbable blockbuster trilogy in Hollywood history: the Austin Powers films, a series of hearty, broad comedies about an English super-spy with bad teeth and a supervillain with a bad clone.

The third installment, Austin Powers in Goldmember, had the fourth-biggest opening in movie history, which just doesn’t make any sense. Pigs are flying, trees are tap-dancing, and movies that parody obscure movie parodies have become a pop phenomenon. At least in Myers’ first franchise, the two Wayne’s World films, the mass attraction of two good-natured slackers was easy to understand. Austin Powers remains the international man of mystery appeal.

It all started as a clever in-joke between Myers and his wife: a parody of the Bond films and their own parodies, such as In Like Flint, that Myers’ father loved. Think about that. Bond films are still sorta popular, but is there any casual movie fan in this country under 50 who’s seen In Like Flint? The 14-year-olds who pack these films don’t go home and read in Harper’s Bazaar about the retro-chic ’60s style in which Austin Powers thrives. The whole idea is miles from the mainstream, but people from every walk of life line up to watch Myers’ latest stream-of-consciousness riff masquerading as a film.

Or maybe it’s the fart jokes. OK, now we’re getting somewhere.

Goldmember isn’t much more than a riff and a fart. Myers and director Jay Roach don’t feel any rush to get a story started while they’re busy re-introducing all the old favorites and launching an uninspired musical number over the credits. The biggest laughs come from parodies of the characters themselves (such as Danny DeVito dressed up as Mini-Me), adding a whole new layer of psychological frosting to this sickly-sweet cake.

The new villain—Goldmember, a Dutch roller-disco enthusiast with a golden schlong and a tractor beam that can pull a meteor to Earth and flood the world—is creepy-funny, but not much more. In fact, Myers wastes almost as many comedic possibilities as he utilizes. Michael Caine, perfectly cast as Austin’s father, does nearly nothing, and Beyoncé Knowles of Destiny’s Child fame does even less as eye-candy secret agent Foxxy Cleopatra. Myers seems content to think up a few clever characters and then leave them sitting around like so many lava lamps.

By the way, it’s entirely possible that your children will flip on TNT one day in 2022 to watch the two Austin Powers sequels and have absolutely no idea what’s going on. Every single thing about these films is temporary, from the stream-of-consciousness plot to the tediously obscure pop culture references (like Jared’s Subway diet, for instance) to Myers’ endless comedic tics. The latter are often entertaining, but really seem like the patter of a teaching assistant trying to bag an undergrad by overwhelming her with a constant flow of witty persiflage.

Having said all this, there’s still a genuine silliness in Goldmember that can’t help inspiring laughs in even the most jaded viewer. At some point, it’s just impossible not to guffaw when a midget slides down an air vent and slams headfirst into a wall. Myers delights in the big, easy laughs, such as Austin’s ride on Mini-Me’s shoulders underneath a trench coat. It feels good to play along in this colorful, off-kilter universe, even if you feel guilty for it afterward.

Maybe it’s best not to try to understand the Austin Powers phenomenon. Maybe we should swing along with the crowd and enjoy the simple pleasures of this bizarre creation. Just treat it for what it is: a guy trying to make his late father laugh. Nothing strange or evil about that.