Austin Powers in Goldmember

(Jay Roach, USA, 2002)


Mike Myers raised the stakes of the Austin Powers series in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999), the sequel to Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997). It was faster, funnier, trickier than the original. Third time out, however, a note of desperation has crept in.

This is the sort of sequel that not only shamelessly recycles ideas its predecessors (such as MTV pastiches, time travel conundrums and cameo appearances) but jokes about the fact that it is doing so. Myers’ sense of humour is, by now, caught in a fatal spiral of self-consciousness.

Almost every gag is a shambling riff on a patently ludicrous plot move or a punchline that does not quite work. Myers seems happiest when he can act beside himself in the guise of another character. His three-dozen ways of winking to the audience that it is all a big put-on quickly become tiresome.

One of the few novelties in Goldmember is the presence of Michael Caine as Nigel, Austin’s father. This cues not only a cameo from Burt Bacharach and a parody of Star Wars-type angst about parenthood, but also a very fake-looking bit of digital magic conjuring the young Caine in a melodramatic flashback.

Those keen to observe the representations of gender in popular culture will find a familiar treasure trove in this latest Austin Powers movie. Despite the spirited performance of Beyoncé Knowles as the blaxploitation stereotype Foxxy Cleopatra, one aspect of Goldmember is highly puzzling. Why do all the jokes about horrible bodily functions, organs and mutations only ever concern the male characters?

Myers’ obsessiveness on this level is what gives the Austin Powers series its weird energy. His depiction of the male body is far from flattering. Obesity, flatulence, and ultra-smallness or ultra-largeness of penis size are only some of the comic horrors that are exhaustively treated, while the old-fashioned shag hardly gets a look-in this time. In one splendid sight gag, Austin even appears to give birth to Mini Me (Verne Troyer).

One might take as a sign of Myers’ respect for women the fact that he does not subject them to similar tortures. Or the exact opposite: women in these films strike a few amusing poses in some funny costumes, but they never get to share in the real, transgressive fun of wildly creative self-mockery.

What a wonderful world it would be if, for a change, a Mike Myers or Eddie Murphy movie concentrated on dynamic, special effects gags about women’s genitalia and their ever-changing body shapes. Unfortunately, Hollywood would probably regard that as grotesque rather than entertaining.

MORE Roach: Meet the Fockers, Mystery, Alaska

© Adrian Martin September 2002

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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