Originally Reviewed – 4/26/2012
And then…there was Goldmember.
If you’ve been following these Austin Powers reviews with any regularity, you know how I felt about him way back when. My former obsession is well documented. Instead, let me take you back to the year 2002. Sitting dead center in a packed New Jersey theater, I was all pumped up for Austin Powers in Goldmember. The film started out promising featuring a Mission Impossible style action sequence followed by a number of very funny A-list cameos. Despite the laughter in the audience, I felt a pang. A quick stab to my inner fan. In the opening five minutes of the third Austin Powers film, I realized this wasn’t just a fun comedy, for dorks by dorks. This was a serious franchise, a Hollywood machination of high production values and celebrity panache. The first film was directed by a no name, written by and starring the lead from So I Married An Axe Murderer. Now Mike Myers didn’t just play Austin Powers. He was Austin Powers.
But it was funny, at least for the first five minutes, so I laughed along with the crowd. Minutes rolled by and as the opening dance number revved up, I settled down. This felt right. Flashed up, gaudy and a bit more polished, but this was still the character I loved. After all, the original films weren’t indies. They were studio projects backed by millions of dollars. So what if this had a few cameos and a fresh coat of paint. It could still be funny. It could still make me laugh.
Just as I had settled in, the movie committed a sin, an egregious affront that soiled my image of Austin Powers for all time. This cut me to the core, so much so, I now drink obscene amounts of Powers Irish Whiskey just to keep the memory at bay. From there on, the movie made me chuckle, but never laugh.
Austin, with his dance troupe in tow, walked into a warehouse and a Britney Spears video ensued. Quincy Jones’ iconic theme? Gone. Austin sporting “Baby, One More Time” ear poms? Indeed. As quickly as it started, the theme came back and Austin danced away but the movie was forever tarnished. In that moment, I grew up.
Ten years later, in revisiting this film for this review, memories of my experience flooded back to me. Recollections of my disappointment hit me square the minute I picked up the DVD case and read the words “FULL SCREEN” on the cover. Ugh. This was going to be painful. The initial story didn’t help much. Opening with a standard Dr. Evil doing the standard Dr. Evil shtick, the film has little momentum at the outset. Adding to the mayhem is Fat Bastard, Mini Me and a new antagonist in the titular Goldmember, a Dutchman with gold plated genitalia. The plan this time around is to employ a tractor beam to send a golden meteorite crashing to Earth unless the world pays a hefty ransom.
The first problem with all these baddies is that it waters down the Austin Powers character. This film focuses heavily on the relationship between Austin and his negligent father Nigel (Michael Caine). Unlike the second film, this new development weakens the character’s core and by having all these bad guys taking screen time, you lose the essence of what made Austin fun. Rather than silly gags, Austin is tortured by daddy issues. I’m all for trying new things with your characters but when it tampers with what made fans love him to begin with, it weakens the film. It also doesn’t help that the villains have nothing funny to say. Fat Bastard recycles gags from the first film, Dr. Evil spouts pop culture references and the new character, Goldmember, repeats the same three unfunny jokes over and over again. Seriously. I counted.
To further the pain, things don’t get much better on the sidekick side. Fighting alongside Austin is Foxy Cleopatra (Beyoncé), a 70’s era soul siren. Beyoncé gives it her best but she simply doesn’t have the comic chops and her character has nothing funny to say in the first place. With nobody interesting to bounce off of, Austin is left swinging in the wind. Another major issue is Austin’s trip to the seventies. Used solely to put the lead in platform shoes in a roller rink, the swinging super spy just doesn’t fit in the disco era. The sixties worked because that’s where his home was, the nineties worked because he was a fish out of water, but the seventies didn’t do anything but make him drive a low rider.
Luckily, the film isn’t a total disaster. Some of the jokes, including Ben Savage with a mole and a very clever bit where Austin and Mini Me go in disguise, are quite funny. The scenes featuring Austin and the doctor as young boys are well done and the tone of the movie is consistent with the previous two. Heck, I even enjoyed the nostalgic Dr. Evil version of “It’s A Hard Knock Life”. But that’s not enough to save a film with poor villains, weak jokes and characters trying so hard to be different, they end up saying nothing at all.
After watching this film for the first time in nearly five years, I was reminded of watching the credits back in 2002. As the obligatory post film gag reel ran, I couldn’t place why it didn’t work, why I didn’t laugh. Now, doing the same thing fifteen years later, I see what happened. That was the day I grew up a little. 22 year old Bill shouldn’t have been watching Austin Powers with a theater full of high schoolers. He was in college. His days should’ve been filled with career planning, drinking heavily and getting laid. In the five years since the original was released, he had witnessed something he loved pass him by. A natural progression of time. Now, as a 31 year old Bill, I’ll always look back on the trilogy with fondness but little regrets. The mental picture is a rosy one but a picture just the same, easily put on the shelf and forgotten until the next time nostalgia knocks and asks to spend some time with me. Until then, the Austin Powers trilogy will remain on the shelf, gathering dust. Especially Austin Powers in Goldmember. Full screen version, my ass.
Score – 50%