Austin Powers in Goldmember

  • Title:  Austin Powers in Goldmember
  • Director:  Jay Roach
  • Date:  2002
  • Studio:  New Line (et al)
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Cast:  Mike Myers, Beyoncé Knowles, Michael Caine, Michael York, Seth Green, Robert Wagner, Verne Troyer, Fred Savage
  • Format:  Widescreen, Color
  • DVD Format:  NTSC, R1

“All right, Goldmember. Don’t play the laughing boy! There are only two things I can’t stand in this world:  People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures… and the Dutch!” — Sir Nigel Powers

Goldmember begins with four or five title sequences (depending on how one counts them) and breaks the fourth wall twice. This is an excellent example of the problem with this film. Whereas the first two Austin Powers films had a strong plot, this film feels like a series of barely connected short skits, sketches, and ideas instead of a film.

Nominally, the film is parodying many purely 70s types of  films — rollar skating films, trucker films, disco films, prison films, even the 1960s Bond film Goldfinger is referenced. Dr. Evil, who now has his evil headquarters behind the Hollywood sign and is running a talent agency, is captured in the beginning of  the film. However, the plot to kidnap Austin’s father, Nigel Powers, played by Michael Caine goes on. Austin travels into the 1970s in an outrageous pimpmobile (another 70s reference), picks-up Foxxy Cleopatra (Beyoncé) but fails to rescue Nigel. From there it’s a bit of a mess. Fat Bastard returns as a Sumo wrestler. Scott Evil finally gives in and becomes evil – taking Mini Me’s place at Dr. Evil’s side (who has now escaped prison). Mini Me then defects to British Intelligence and becomes Mini Austin. Eventually, during the climax, Nigel reveals that Dr. Evil is actually Austin’s brother and everyone is happy except the now totally evil and quite mad Scott Evil.

One of the funniest vignettes of the film is Michael Caine (again, as Austin’s father, Nigel) and Austin disguising what they are saying by speaking in English English or Cockney Rhyming slang — with subtitles. It’s hilarious! Now, Cockney Rhyming slang is real – it’s an actual version of English, developed in London’s East End by criminals and the lower class so police (Bobbys) and upper class Brits wouldn’t understand what they were saying (much like any slang or argot). The idea is that the phrase not only rhymes with itself but it rhymes with the word the slang phrase replaces (eg “trouble and strife” means wife or “apples and pears” means stairs). As the slang’s been around since Victorian times, often the second half of the phrase is left off (e.g. just “trouble” to mean “wife”).  Needless to say, it’s a bit confusing — and yes, it’s spoken as fast as Caine and Myers do in the film, if not faster.  (I once heard a very frustrated Neil Gaiman break into Cockney Rhyming slang at an SF convention when trying to out-talk Harlan Ellison.  Neil won.)  However, that one scene I always end up rewinding and watching two or three times – every time I watch the film, because it’s brilliant.

Another cute bit occurs in Tokyo when Austin, Nigel, and Foxxy are escaping and their car hits a Japanese monster-movie paper-mache monster and starts pushing it down the street. The crowds start running away and one yells, “Godzilla!” – then Masi Oka appears and says, “It looks like Godzilla, but due to international copyright law – it isn’t!” Then both run away. That bit was brilliant.

And Michael Caine is perfect to play Nigel Powers, especially as the character of Austin, with his wavy reddish hair and glasses come from Caine’s look in films like The Ipcress File. And Caine and Myers have great chemistry. But there isn’t enough of Caine, and overall the film misses the boat a bit. I would have much, much preferred a film about Austin and his father’s relationship – even Austin’s daddy issues (something briefly mentioned by Dr. Evil in the first film) as compared to the relationship between Dr. Evil and Scott and Mini Me. The last scene is quite nice but a bit rushed. I could have done without all the pull-backs revealing our characters watching a movie of Austin in “Austinpussy” – complete with A-list Hollywood cast, and more actual story. The first two films had story – this film had sketches.

There is a lot of music in the film, as always with the Austin Powers films, but no psychedelic scene breaks. Both Austin and Dr. Evil get to perform musical numbers though. As does Foxxy, though hers is part of her cover at Goldmember’s club. However, whereas the music in the first two films was the original songs (“Secret Agent Man”, “Incense and Peppermints”, etc) in this film music is actually parodied (“What’s it all about, Algie” becomes “What’s it all about, Austin?” for example). Using original music worked better.

And, whereas the first two films had us sympathetic with Austin – but at times with Dr. Evil, Scott, Number Two, and even Fat Bastard — this film often seems out-and-out cruel. Goldmember has no redeeming values at all, and the peeling skin is way over the top. Fat Bastard does actually get another sympathetic scene (he is perfect as a Sumo wrestler) and at the very end is shown to have lost over 100 pounds from the Jerald Subway diet, but still… More plot and more character, and less brief sketches going nowhere would have helped the film immensely.

So why did I buy it? Well, I got the first two films in a two-pack, two films for $10.00, which is five dollars each, so I couldn’t pass it up. And I kept seeing Goldmember at bargain shelves for $5.00 and finally bought a copy, figuring, if nothing else, the little that Michael Caine is in this film makes it worth five bucks. I also really liked the “Singin’ in the Rain” parody that’s one of the five opening credit sequences – and, as I’ve said, the bit on English English.

Recommendation:  See it or not, depends on how much you like Austin Powers.
Rating:  3 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Back to the Future