Comedy might be the only critic-proof genre left. While you may argue about wit, good taste, execution and all sorts of other “objective” criteria, in the end it’s all about one thing: funny or not funny. And if there’s one thing that is subjective, it’s what one laughs at. The same joke can inspire anything from boredom to hysterical laughter, it’s all about the particular quirks of the sense of humor of each individual in the audience. So one critic might writer that there are no funnier movies than “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and “This is Spinal Tap”, while another (say, me) will appreciate their wit but not find them that great. Likewise, while I and others can’t get enough of Mike Myers’ brand of goofiness, you’ll find as many people who can’t stand it.
To me, “Wayne’s World” was a revelation. It came at just the right time, when I was growing into an irreverent teenager, and it led me to watching “Saturday Night Live” and, indirectly, to American TV in general. Irony had reached a golden age at that point, and I was loving every smart-ass bit of it. Hence, by 1997, “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” was a refreshing departure from what comedies usually showed us. Here was a movie with clearly old fashioned influences, revolving around a pair of characters literally out of their time. For all his party-loving, horny geekboy tendencies, Austin Danger Powers is, more than anything, a good-natured cat: “What we swingers were rebelling against were uptight squares like you, whose bag was money and world domination. We were innocent, man. If we’d known the consequences of our sexual liberation, we would have done things differently, but the spirit would have remained the same. It’s freedom, baby!”
While “The Spy Who Shagged Me” wasn’t quite as clever as the first movie, relying a bit too much on milking the same gags, it is still a wildly entertaining romp. And now, 5 years into the franchise, we get what might be the final chapter in the epic trilogy, “Goldmember”! So how does Myers’ latest outing rate? To quote the titular new villain, “That’s a keeper”! This new adventure involves more time travel nonsense and a new attempt by Dr. Evil to hold the world hostage, this time by using a “tractor beam” to attract a meteor to Earth, make it crash to the North Pole, melting the ice cap thus flooding the planet. And to make sure that his nemesis Austin Powers doesn’t get in his way, Evil has him kidnapped by a 70s disco club owner whom, after an unfortunate “smelting” accident, has been aptly dubbed Goldmember. Austin must travel back to 1975 to rescue his daddy, teaming and hooking up in the meantime with soul sister Foxxy Cleopatra…
Okay, so not much invention here, more of the same is more like it, and there are some incongruities, notably how would Austin even know about 70s style as he’s been frozen from 67 to 97. Yet this is a nitpick, as the film actually only breezes through 1975, mostly to take the new funkadelic characters into present day Japan, where the story truly unfolds. Personally, I wish they’d left Foxxy go-go dancing at Club 69. Beyoncé Knowles (from Destiny’s Child) is sort of charming, but she has no chemistry with Myers and she’s never given anything resembling a personality or good lines. The one joke about her begins and ends in her afro.
Faring infinitely better is Myers’ latest incarnation. With all the gags and routines that are recycled from the previous pictures, the film could have seemed tired and pointless (even though said “greatest hits” are often tweaked to even more hilarious proportions), but this movie won me over the first time Goldmember showed up. His blonde ponytail, his flaking skin, his high-pitched, Dutch-accented voice (“I loooooooooAve gooAld!”), his contortionist skills, his tighty-tight shorts, his girly giggle… Every single thing about him made me crack up every time he’s onscreen!
Jay Roach is back behind the camera for the third time and he shot an even more colorful, snappier movie. It’s a bit of a mess, but the way we’re always switching from character to character and going on silly tangents is part of the fun. I could have done without most of the musical numbers and some might find the film to be too raunchy at times, but there are sequences of undeniable comic brilliance. I’m thinking in particular of a scene which satirises Hollywood action movies that’s worth the admission price on its own!
Another thing that I appreciated a lot is how the film respects the rules of movie trilogy, as explained in “Scream 3”: “True trilogies are all about going back to the beginning and discovering something that wasn’t true from the get go. ‘Godfather’, ‘Jedi’, all revealed something that we thought was true, that wasn’t true.” As such, “Goldmember” ties up the origins of Austin and Dr. Evil, reveals how they became antagonists at the Spy Academy, and further explores the father and son theme that has been present in the whole trilogy, with Evil’s competing son/clone Scott (Seth Green) and Mini-Me (Verne Troyer) and the re-emergence of Austin’s deadbeat dad, Nigel Powers (played by Michael Caine!). While the film doesn’t subvert Freudian paternal issues as gleefully as Tom Green’s under-appreciated “Freddy Got Fingered” did, it’s at least more compelling than anything in “Road to Perdition”.
“Goldmember” might not be a great film but it’s certainly funnier than any movie I’ve seen all year, even though it confirms the impression that the original “Austin Powers” can’t be outdone since what made it so special was how fresh and peculiar it was. Still, it packs enough drowning-out-the-dialogue-belly-laughs to make it a must-see.