I would like to say that the third time is the charm for the Austin Powers film series, but "Goldmember" (IMDb listing) the franchise's latest installment, lacks a certain punch. That's not to say this isn't the most fall-down-funny film you'll see all summer, but coming after the unexpected success of the last picture, "The Spy Who Shagged Me" (henceforth "SWSM"), this new film feels a little like leftovers.
Basking in his newfound fame, only one thing stands in the way of happiness for Austin Powers (Mike Myers): love and respect from dear old dad, Nigel Powers (Michael Caine). When Dr. Evil (Mike Myers), with Mini-Me (Verne Troyer), rises again to claim power over all of humanity, he decides to enlist help from the year 1975, and his name is Goldmember (Mike Myers). An overly-tanned Dutchman who enjoys eating his own peeling skin, Goldmember kidnaps Nigel and holds him for ransom to capture Austin. Wanting to save his father, but more importantly, trying to win his admiration, Austin enlists the help of bad mama Foxy Cleopatra (Beyonce Knowles) to retrieve his father and stop Dr. Evil's nefarious, world-ending "Preparation H" plan (preparations A through G failed).
I stress that "Goldmember" will have you rolling in the aisles. It's as funny as anything you'll see this year, but in the quest to package something together for this third go around, the brainchild behind this franchise, Mike Myers, seems to have let his past successes block his vision. The furious hilarity of "SWSM" came from the fact that the first installment, "Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery" ("IMOM"), was a middling success, and the filmmakers seemed to be blown away that they'd received a shot to make a sequel. They compacted "SWSM" with gag after gag of unlimited resourcefulness and originality, even in the potty humor that is such a cornerstone of this series. It came out of nowhere and proceeded to make four times the money as "IMOM" domestically.
For "Goldmember," the stakes are higher, and Myers, with partner Michael McCullers, play it a bit safer this time out. They repeat gags from the first two pictures (the "Shuss!" battles, the shadow play, the opening credits), and annoyingly have the characters react tiredly to these gags, as if trying to preempt any similar audience reactions. Also misfiring is the new character Goldmember, which looks groovy on the page but when embodied by Myers is just a great idea looking for a laugh. A bizarre looking, horrifically flexible swinger from Holland, Goldmember doesn't have the personality or lines that made Fat Bastard (who returns briefly in the new film, and remains a comedic highlight) such a scream in "SWSM." I'm not suggesting that Myers' instincts are missing because clearly, with the side-splitting lunacy on display, he has lost none of his limitless imagination. It's just more that Myers doesn't want to ruin what worked before, and he's more content to stay within those familiar parameters of comedy than venture out and explore the borders of the "Powers" world.
Since we must make due with what we're given, I was pleasantly surprised that Myers has come back with new, more elaborate jokes for his characters. Scott Evil (Seth Green) has a wonderful subplot in which he tries passionately to impress his father, even finding sharks with frickin laser beams attached to their heads. Mini-Me is given much more to do in this sequel, teaming up with Austin to infiltrate Dr. Evil's submarine lair in a sequence that will have you laughing so hard the Diet Coke will gush from your nose. Some musical numbers and high-wattage star cameos (too many to count) are entertaining too. Also of note is Michael Caine and his swinging performance as Austin's father. Caine "gets" the role hands down, and he's eager to play with Myers and the rest of the cast. It's fun to watch. As mentioned before, Myers also brings back the potty jokes, this time a little more forceful than before. They work, if only because Myers' enthusiasm for this genre of humor is truly infectious. Plus, when's the last time you saw a film that had fun with sumo wrestler diapers?
The ending of "Goldmember" is a head-scratcher, as it both promises a fourth installment and ends the series at the same time. Either way, I'm satisfied with what Myers has accomplished with his "Austin Powers" pictures. He's made being silly not seem like such a guilty pleasure anymore.
Filmfodder Grade: B+