Austin Powers in Goldmember is full of thoroughly familiar jokes and routines from the first two Austin Powers movies. I saw the gags coming a mile off, and they kept running on and on, like sketches on Mike Myers’s old stomping grounds, Saturday Night Live. Yet I was Power-less to keep from laughing till it hurt.
The opening sequence of the film captures in a nutshell the Powers paradox. What started out in 1997’s Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery as an outsider gesture, an arcane wink at a vanished sliver of pop-culture ephemera, has since been embraced and mainstreamed, so that the parody is now itself a worthy target of parody. Goldmember begins with a stunt sequence so blatantly copped from the current vogue for Matrix/John Woo–style wire work that it comes as little surprise to discover that what you’re watching is really a big-budget Hollywood action-film shoot for a movie about superspy Powers starring an apt set of A-list actors.
Then Britney Spears shows up, also playing herself; will it surprise anyone if I reveal that she turns out to be a fake-breasted fembot? There’s a mild chuckle to be had at all these pop royals making fun of themselves, but what they’re really doing is reminding us that we’re watching an expensive summer "tentpole" movie designed to earn zillions for its distributor by accommodating the blockbuster-spectacle formula of a new-but-comfortably-familiar sequel.
More than its predecessors, Goldmember feels like a series of sketches rather than an organic narrative. The plot sends Austin time-traveling back to 1975 for a brief sequence whose only real function is to provide an excuse for heroine Foxxy Cleopatra (singer Beyoncé Knowles of Destiny’s Child) to appear as a blaxploitation fashion plate, complete with planet-sized Afro. (Think of her as Pam Grier’s Mini-Me.) Whereas the first two movies got a lot of mileage out of the anachronisms in style and sexual attitudes when characters from the 1960s showed up in the present and vice versa, Foxxy has no trouble assimilating into the 21st century. She’s even more of a straight woman, a gorgeous prop, than Heather Graham was in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
Also at home in both eras — he’s a freak then and now — is new villain Goldmember (played by Myers), a Euro-swinger with sun-damaged skin, a fetish for gold like that of the James Bond baddie he’s named for, and a prosthetic limb that’s worth its weight in — well, you know. He serves the same function that scatological Scotsman Fat Bastard (Myers again) did in the last movie (F.B. makes a mercifully brief appearance this time), as a source of sick bodily humor and a target for arbitrary ethnic scapegoating (Goldmember has an unintelligible Dutch accent).
Then there’s Nigel Powers, Austin’s father and an international man of mystery himself. In a casting no-brainer, he’s played by Michael Caine, whose Harry Palmer spy thrillers from the ’60s are one of the obscure antecedents of the Powers movies. Seeing Caine and Myers (as Austin) together proves that Austin is a fish-and-chip off the old block. Still, Nigel doesn’t have much to do either except serve as an expository foil for his son’s unresolved Oedipal issues.
Those have always been the other main comic thrust of these movies, first with Dr. Evil (Myers yet again) and son Scott (Seth Green), then with Scott and his dad’s clone, Mini-Me (Verne Troyer). This movie tidily, if implausibly, resolves everyone’s abandonment issues in a way that confirms Scream 3’s maxim that, in the third part of a trilogy, everything you thought you knew about the characters is suspect.
And yet, and yet . . . what does any of this matter if the movie reduces you to helpless laughter? Myers and company recycle their gags with such craftsmanship and efficiency that the lack of freshness seems an afterthought. If it ain’t broke, you won’t catch these filmmakers trying to fix it. Myers’s little spy spoof may have grown into the movie industry’s biggest in-joke, but the joke is still pretty damn funny.