Our review of The Austin Powers Collection (Blu-Ray), published December 17th, 2008, is also available.
"There are only two things I hate; those who are intolerant of other people's cultures…and the Dutch"—Nigel Powers
One of the best pieces in early Mad Magazine was the simplistically named "Spy vs. Spy." In this panel comic, a birdlike agent dressed all in white would battle a similarly clad black agent for no other apparent reason than their own mutual destruction. Along with Woody Allen's re-soundtracked Asian espionage saga What's Up Tiger Lily, and the Bond as buffoon Casino Royale, this was the perceived level of satire aimed at those who would lead the undercover life. Sadly, other international mystery men did not fare as well. The Matt Helm films, devised to give Dean Martin a reason to sober up (it didn't work) were kooky, swinging '60s slabs of childishness, tempered only by the occasional ingenious secret agent device and blatant womanizing. The Flint films tried to go one better, wanting to outdo James and his British Intelligence community in the main fields of espionage: sex, scotch, and saving the world while never wrinkling your ascot. While listening to Burt Bacharach, comedian Mike Myers was inspired to mine his father's love of all things secret agent and create an updated comic version of the covert operator of his very own. Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery was the result. Five years and mega-millions in box office returns later, Austin Powers in Goldmember hits DVD. Youth wants to know: is it shagadelic? Or as tired as Myers' obsession with Scotland?
Facts of the Case
When we last left Dr. Evil, he was headed into space, having been defeated once again at the hands of International Man of Mystery, Austin Powers. Upon returning to earth, Dr. Evil learns that his empire of awfulness has gone legit, and focuses on the personal representation and management business. His new lair is located in Hollywood. As is Austin Powers, who just so happens to be supervising the production on a movie of his life. Dr. Evil plans on creating an asteroid tractor beam, first developed by the deranged Dutch metallurgist Goldmember, with designs on attracting a huge hunk of interstellar rock and crashing it into the polar ice caps, causing them to melt and flood the Earth. But even before the plot can exit his lips, he is again thwarted by Powers. For his recurrent saving of the world, Powers in knighted by the Queen.
At the ceremony, Austin hopes to reconnect with his long absent father, who is himself a famed International Man of Mystery. But alas, Daddy does not make an appearance. Later, at a party at his swinging London pad, Austin learns that his father has been kidnapped. Seeking Dr. Evil's help, he learns that the mysterious master criminal genius Goldmember has taken his father back to 1975. Austin travels back in time and lands in Goldmember's roller disco, Studio 69. With the help of an undercover policewoman, Foxxy Cleopatra, Austin finds his father. He also finds Goldmember, so named for the replacement gold genitalia he now has, the result of a freak smelting accident. Goldmember recaptures Nigel Powers, and heads back to the future to join Dr. Evil. Seems they have been working together all along. And it's up to Austin, Foxxy, and a surprise convert from Dr. Evil's camp to help stop this mad plan and save the Pater Powers, who may have a few surprises and revelations up his sleeve.
The conversion of a hit film into a franchise is always tricky. One runs the risk of taking whatever everyone liked about the first movie and messing it up for the sake of a sequel and the avoidance of sameness. Worse are those who simply take the inflated paycheck and lifelessly run though the motions, making nothing new or interesting cinematically on the way to the bank. For many movie lovers, Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery was a gangly little gem of a comedy which saw former SNL veteran and borderline Hollywood big wig Mike Meyers (Wayne's World) pay loving tribute to the wild and swinging spy films of the '60s and '70s. While not a spectacular success at the box office, the shagadelic undercover lover found a fond fan base on home video, where the low budget buffoonery and good natured nonsense won a huge, happy following. While the satire was not always razor sharp and the financial limitations evident in the less than stellar production values, talent and tradition combined to make Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery a gentle, genial bit of whimsy.
Success, unfortunately, bred perverse bedfellows and when Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me appeared in movie theaters in 1999, it was a monster hit. It was also a miscalculation of bloated, big budget proportions. Believing in the mantra that more is just not enough, Myers and partner in irony, director Jay Roach, ladled the stupidity and salaciousness on in huge thick, tangy doses. Instead of the near comic cleverness of the first film, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me decided that the best and only joke was of the dirty or dung based variety. Everything about the sequel was gross and over the top. From the addition of a character named Fat Bastard who literally oozed noxiousness from his first on screen moments, to the stream of consciousness desire to throw everything in, under and passing through the kitchen sink as a means of achieving a laugh, Spy was no longer a tender homage to the characters Myers and his father loved so much. It was, instead, a Farrelly Brothers barf-o-rama disguising itself as a wacky, way out trip down the 13th floor elevator to the center of your Savile Row funny bone. Monumental success meant the desire to turn Powers and his gang of cinematic oddities into that aforementioned franchise. The dilemma then became where to take the series.
The resolution, happily, is back in the spoof, not the poop, direction. Austin Powers in Goldmember is a nod and a wink to all the fans of the first two films while looking for future fortunes in new characters and mining hilarity in distinct time periods and fashions. The film is only partly successful, but the good far outweighs the bad in what is a better, tighter, and more thoughtful sequel to the original than the sophomoric Spy. This is not to say that Myers and the entire Powers posse have hung up their juvenile jokes for sophisticated and suave banter, but there is less of an attempt to be outrageous, to mindlessly throw naughty or nasty gags at the audience and hope that there is laughter, either honest or embarrassed, in response. With a target as wide and as deep as the Bond/Helms/Flint films, you'd think that smart, precise satire could be achieved regularly and with pinpoint accuracy. Instead, most of the merriment is hit or miss, but delivered in such a fine, frantic, and friendly fashion that you may feel guilty for laughing when you do, but will also forgive the silence when a riff falls flat.
Something old and something new really works to sell Goldmember. The new comes in the form of another near-genius Myers creation. Forgiving his Shrek with skidmarks Fat Bastard, one has to credit the Canadian comic for turning the title character, Goldmember, into a creepy, crazed creature. Even though the majority of his dialogue is obtuse, and he is never a menacing or meaty villainous presence, Goldmember is a 14-karat invention of wit and inspiration. In some ways, he is the most fully realized and present of Myers' many onscreen personas. He doesn't have the glint at the camera self-referential quality of Dr. Evil or Austin, nor is he just a bunch of foam latex mixed with Groundskeeper Willie's anus with the initials "FB." Myers gets lost in the whole aura, the total look and language of Goldmember to such an extent that it overshadows the previously mentioned main characters. It would be interesting to see an entire movie about the warped, skin peeling and eating Danish disco maniac. The short amount of screen time given to this marvel of acting and improvisation is one of the film's merely minor flaws.
Surprisingly, the best old thing that works in this third Austin outing is not a Myers creation. It's not Seth Green as Scott Evil (although he is excellent) or Michael York as Basil Exposition (by the way…does this man EVER AGE?). Without a doubt the most superb thing in Goldmember is 2' 8" Verne Troyer as Mini-Me. Millions of miles away from the stunt casting craziness of Spy, Troyer's characterization of Dr. Evil's miniature clone has magically and magnificently transformed into the true comic glue within the film. With his silent pantomime and human special effect stature, the performance borders on the right side of genius. He manages to make what for many would be seem like a simple notion of a human prop into a full blown, three dimensional (and classic) character. He doesn't just steal every scene he is in. He walks up and metaphysically bitch slaps the other actors, demanding they surrender to his brilliance. Some could argue that it's his height, or the makeup performing, but that would be selling Troyer short, to work the pun. His Mini-Me is absolutely the best, funniest, and most well conceived chance taken by this film. They could have expanded any other character (and they do, sometime to their detriment). Troyer and Mini-Me make the most of the opportunity given.
Alas, two big missed opportunities come with the casting of the new people in Power's life. As blaxploitation's answer to Moesha, Beyonce Knowles is nothing but sweet mocha eye candy in Goldmember. She is supposed to be playing a street-smart badass butt whipping police sista' from the 'hood, but she comes off like a little girl who stumbled into Disco Stu's transvestite closet. Anyone who knows the genre will see she is a weak substitute for a Pam Grier (a perfect casting choice…no matter her age) or the character Foxxy Cleopatra most resembles, TV's Christie Love (the sadly no longer with us Teresa Graves). Beyonce is just to goody two shoelicious for the role. She has none of the grit, grace, or animalistic sexuality of those brown sugar babes that came before her. Not quite as bad off, but still underused and valued is Michael Caine as Austin's Dad, Nigel Powers. He is supposed to be a top-flight agent. He is supposed to be a charming and debonair ladies man. He is supposed to be a randy and swinging gentleman spy. But more times than not, he comes off as a slumming…Michael Caine. Unfortunately, since he is not given much to work with, his performance seems phoned in and the filmmakers allow him to simply trade on his classic cinematic presence to sell the premise of all the things he is supposed to be. Caine never seems to interact with the rest of the cast. More times than not, you can sense the cast standing back, marveling as the twice awarded Oscar winner shows the amateurs how a professional does it.
Most of the fault lies in the script. Myers and longtime collaborator Mike McCullers just can't seem to find a consistent tone for the film. When it steps into the '70s to introduce Goldmember and his roller boogie bizzaro world, not enough is done within this demented dance club. The whole subgenre of disco musicals could have been explored and sent up. On the other hand, the film begins and ends with a star studded and surprise cameo filled movie within a movie (similar to the end of Pee Wee's Big Adventure) that is hilarious, if not a little self-serving. While it's really just a chance for several A-list actors and filmmakers to wink at the camera and let the rest of the world know that, even though they have box office clout and shelves full of awards, they love the silly fun of Austin Powers too, it's also an insane and infectious bit of inspiration. It shows that when Myers and McCullers set their mind to it, they can create genuine, satirical magic. But then they ruin it with a reappearance of the human cesspool Fat Bastard, who adds absolutely nothing to film, either comically or narratively. And there is about one musical sequence too many in the film. Myers is a talented dancer, and the parodies of hip-hop and old-fashioned Hollywood are fine. But when Austin sings a proto pop punk ode to his missing Daddy, it stops the forward momentum of the film dead in its peg pants.
Still, there are lots of things to love about Goldmember. There is a sequence where Austin rides on Mini-Me's shoulders, wearing a long overcoat to cover them both. It tops any previous version of this clichéd comic formula, cartoon or live action. Just the sight of seeing Troyer's tiny legs maneuvering under that huge coat is worth the price of a rental, not to mention the entire "fill the cup" urine sample section from the same scene. We even get to see Austin and Dr. Evil in spy school, played with equal imagination and wit by two young and gifted actors who capture the nuances without resorting to doing impersonations. Austin Powers in Goldmember is one of those rare sequels that actually continues to improve on the source material while offering new delights. There are issues that will cause fans of the second movie to scratch their butts in disbelief, since there are few of the fart, feces, and fornication jokes this time around. And fans of the first film may still feel cheated, since the fish out of the Thames temperament that made the original so winning is barely present. What Goldmember is defies franchise logic. It takes chances. It reworks history. It lets ancillary characters shine while experimenting with old favorites. If future installments in the franchise follow the fun formula presented here, Austin Powers will be a swinging, sexy beast for a long time to come.
New Line Cinema offers Austin Powers in Goldmember as one of their premier, digital diorama Infinifilm releases. For those unfamiliar with these titles, they attempt to present movies in a totally immersive and interactive fashion. Infinifilm is the closest thing to realizing DVD's full potential and original ideal. Goldmember is a little over 95 minutes in length. Watching via Infinifilm, the presentation will take over three hours. Incorporating commentary, featurettes, making of documentaries, music videos, screenshots, special effects walkthroughs, and pop up digital factoids, this is a truly spectacular, point by point, issue by issue breakdown of the film. It is why DVD was invented. As a scene plays, a menu screen appears at the bottom, offering choices of material to view as a compliment or tangent to what you are seeing on the screen. Choosing the option (via the "enter" button) instantly stops the film, skips to the accessed material, and plays the extra footage or feature. Once it's over, the movie returns and other options are offered. These extras are also available under the Infinifilm menu (this process takes these trailers, documentaries, and behind the scenes featurettes and divides them, offering pertinent sections of each over the matching scene in the film). The feature is not flawless (some reversing and reestablishing needs to occur every once and a while, especially if you're skipping the stupid music videos by Britney Spears or Beyonce) but when it works, it's remarkable. The best way to view Goldmember a second time is with all the features activated. The commentary by Myers and Roach is informative and very funny. It does digress into a mutual admiration kissing society, but more times than not we learn what jokes worked, what was rewritten, and the amount of improvising that went into certain sequences. Myers is especially generous, noting the amount of collaboration that goes on in these films, productions that could mistakenly be viewed as solo ego performance pieces. The pop up facts are interesting, if not a little repetitive of the commentary ("this is not Tokyo, it's a backlot") or obvious ("this motorcycle is not a Harley…"). The Infinifilm menu is constantly barraging the viewer with tidbits, interviews, and best of all, the reinsertion of deleted material. It's better to see these pieces back within the context of the film than viewing them alone once the film is over (you will want to, though, to hear the additional commentary offered by director Roach). Most of the documentary asides are educational, especially when discussing costumes or effects or the legacy of the gentleman spy. But too much time is spent on giving Beyonce Knowles a full blown, cheerleading, self-serving sendoff. Every time her character appears onscreen, you can be guaranteed another clip of some member of the cast or crew singing her praises or proclaiming her future as a stellar leading lady.
As stated before, one can view all of the material used by the Infinifilm feature separately, and going to that menu after everything else is viewed would be a good idea. There you will find more outtakes, additional trailers, TV spots, and content not part of the interactive package. From an extras standpoint, this disc is as bloated as Mr. Bastard's balloon seat pants. But for many, the sound and image will be the most important thing and Goldmember does not disappoint. New Line is brilliant when it comes to the creation of their anamorphic widescreen images and this transfer is no exception. Presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the colors explode across the screen in a true pop art pastiche. There is no flaring or bleeding, which one would expect from a film as filled with hyperactive hues as this one. And the stunning switch between the primary pizzazz of Austin world to the golden slumber sparkle of Goldmember's Club 69 is visually amazing. This is one of the best-looking DVDs, not only from a transfer, but also from a director's vision standpoint. Aurally, the Dolby Digital in any of the formats is unbelievable, especially during the disco workouts in 1975. Dialogue is crisp and clean, and every channel gets a chance at drawing the viewer into the warped world of Austin and his associates.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One can sense the trepidation that the filmmakers felt when making this film. They must have listened to the stinging reviews of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and decided to turn down the gross out factor. And yet several jokes and sequences still rely on a juvenile level of toilet and bottom jokes to attempt and deliver the comedy. The movie does feel more serious, like the first Austin Powers film, but part of this may be in the casting of Michael Caine. The legacy and elegance he brings, even in an underwritten role, causes the entire production to be elevated a few levels. And yet this is still just an underdeveloped spoof, getting by on the good graces and charm of its lead actor, and the inspiration in some (but definitely not all) of his different comic creations. For every Verne Troyer, there is a Beyonce Knowles there to balance out the bravo with the embarrassing. And since the film leaves the door open for yet another sequel, here's hoping that Myers and his crew of creative conjurers can come up with a better, more cohesive story. The cameo filled film within the film was a great place to start. Perhaps Austin Powers Goes to Hollywood would have been a better film than Goldmember. Or use this inspired Danish danger man to create a true spy satire. But to let Fat Bastard and his non-PC putrescence ruin yet another film is a shame. Myers should know better, or find someone who can show him how.
One of the reasons "Spy vs. Spy" worked is because over years and hundreds of panels, the artist Antonio Prohias developed consistently excellent, well-crafted gags and jokes. Rarely did the conceit fall flat and the premise was always true to its characters, and visa versa. It's too bad that the Austin Powers franchise could not be as dependable as the pen and ink antics of the two monochromatic secret agents. What began as a clever, if occasionally corny send-up of the spy as swinger has over time morphed into a covert Jackass with excessive makeup effects. Thankfully, after the misstep of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Mike Myers and his co-stars are back on track with the more focused, less foul Goldmember. While it still relies too heavily on jokes which fail to rise above any humor level other than vulgar, it has comic gems and performances that more than compensate for the occasionally journeys into the gutter. It is an ingenious continuation of the series and a knowing self-deprecating wink at the franchise's mainstream success. Austin Powers is as vital a member of the cinematic secret agent family as the other, less randy, representatives. Here's hoping the next installment capitalizes on what Goldmember gets right, and loses the loose bowel baloney that keeps these films from being true comedy classics.
Austin Powers in Goldmember is found not guilty and is free to go. Mike Myers is held in contempt of court for allowing that cinematic abomination Fat Bastard have anything to do with this film. Beyonce Knowles and Michael Caine are placed on six months probation for having nothing original or special to do. Verne Troyer is given special commendation for his brilliant portrayal as Mini-Me.
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