AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER (2002) – Fool’s gold (and that’s a compliment)

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If you look in my files under “Guilty Pleasures,” you’ll see a picture of Austin Powers. Mike Myers’ series of spy spoofs, featuring a 1960’s British playboy several depths of quality below James Bond, looks as though it has spent the well with its latest entry. And yet, as tasteless and smug as it often is, the best parts of Austin Powers in Goldmember are funnier than any other movie around.

The new story involves Austin (Myers) going back to 1975 to obtain the help of a former lover, Foxxy Cleopatra (Beyonce Knowles), in rescuing Austin’s father Nigel (Michael Caine). Austin also has to fight another Myers-performed villain named Goldmember, who became so obsessed with gold that he lost a very important part of his anatomy in a smelting accident.

All of this is pretty inconsequential. Unlike the previous Austin Powers movies, which had much fun with the ’60s concept of “free love,” Goldmember plays a little with the 1970’s and then abandons the idea. And unlike Heather Graham in the first sequel (whose disappearance here is never explained, strangely), Beyonce Knowles comes off as more of a good sport than an actress.

What was fairly obvious in the first two movies, and what really shines through here, is Mike Myers’ outrageous desire to entertain. There haven’t been this many musical numbers in a comedy since the salad days of The Marx Brothers and Monty Python. And when Powers does a disguise bit where he’s precariously balanced on top of Mini-Me (the ever-game Verne Troyer), cutesy pantomime music plays in the background, as though Myers were doing a farewell performance. And oddly enough, it’s all completely entertaining on that level.

As with the other Powers movies, this one’s major debit is its extreme obsession with bathroom humor. It’s like a bad crutch that Myers throws into the movie in case the truly funny stuff doesn’t work. And a lot of funny stuff there is, including a superb opening scene that kicks the movie into high gear.

This sequel will be roundly criticized for all the usual reasons, and even though I’ll probably agree with every criticism, Goldmember made me laugh so hard and often that it’s worth sitting through its debits. That said, the movie’s ending seems to have roundly finished off any future possibilities for sequels. Austin, you’ve had a good run — now quit while you’re ahead, baby.

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