The latest Austin Powers sequel reaches a new level of self-referential parody
I laughed a lot watching Austin Powers in Goldmember. It just may be the best entry so far in what is, for the time being, the cockamamie trilogy of Austin Powers movies.
On the other hand, the youngish full-house audience I watched it with didn’t laugh all that much. They seemed generally amused but just as often perplexed and occasionally a bit put off. Goldmember, you see, does all the spoofing and goofing that its predecessors did, but it’s also a bizarre and, to me, somewhat fascinating mixture of low-comedy burlesque and something like conceptual art in a convoluted comic mode.
But don’t let me overstate the case—all I really mean is that Goldmember mixes slapstick farce with comic pastiche that is allusive and cerebral. It’s got something for everybody, so to speak, but it’s got a lot more if you can bring something like the Myers team’s semi-encyclopedic knowledge of vintage pop culture into play. And if you can connect with Myers’ surprisingly elaborate riffing on words and ideas, you just might be home free.
All the staple ingredients of the Austin Powers franchise are on hand here—Dr. Evil (Myers), Mini-Me (Verne Troyer), the ludicrously lurid sex lives of Austin and friends, James Bond filtered through a flower-power spoof of the “Swingin’ ‘60s,” parody, parody, parody, etc. Austin’s suitably randy dad, Nigel Powers (Michael Caine), has been added to the mix, and so has a Foxy Brown knock-off (Beyoncé Knowles). And a somewhat toned-down version of the Fat Bastard (Myers) is back as well, but he yields the mantle of comic disgust to the obnoxious archvillain, Goldmember (Myers yet again).
It’s all silly stuff but at times surpassingly so. It’s not just a spoof—it’s a spoof of spoofs, with parodies of its parodies. It’s a summer blockbuster that mocks summer blockbusters. It’s a comedy that gets laughs out of bad jokes by insisting on their badness. It multiplies its father-and-son travesties as part of its mock-Freudian riffing—and it becomes an accidental parody of Road to Perdition in the process. It’s a movie that imagines a movie version of itself (complete with big-name guest-star cameos) and that makes explicit fun of its own imbalances of story and plot.
The sheer proliferation of parody makes Goldmember into surprisingly resonant farce. And its parody musical moments (from the present as well as the ‘60s and ‘70s) generate a satiric edge that may be what was giving pause to the audience last weekend.