Movies

It's a Gas, Man

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By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 26, 2002

"Austin Powers in 'Goldmember' " is puerile, pitiful, grotesque, offensive, immature, repulsive and, of course, extremely funny.

Possibly it helps to be 12 and pretty much unsocialized. Perhaps it helps to believe passionately that jokes involving orifices and their work-product are hilarious. Perhaps it helps if you like Mike Myers so much you don't really care if he's gotten larger and larger, like a runaway zeppelin, while his co-stars get smaller and smaller. Look quick and you'll note Robert Wagner, behind his Hathaway-man eye patch, as No. 2, but mostly he just stands there, looking bored. Michael Caine is also in the film, in the role of Powers's father, Nigel, but I can recollect nothing of his performance.

The plot is the usual meltdown of story situations from the James Bond oeuvre blown out to imbecile proportions and completely disconnected from any cause-effect theory of reality. I suppose the antecedent is "Goldfinger," the excellent Bond film from 1964, in which the superb German actor Gert Frobe played a gold-obsessed sociopath whose plan was to nuke the gold reserve at Fort Knox so as to increase the value of his own holdings. His best line came when Sean Connery's Bond, splayed on a table and about to be eviscerated by a laser, asked Goldfinger if he expected him to talk: "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die."

There's no line as smart or memorable as that in "Goldmember," but then Bond didn't crack nearly as many flatulence jokes.

This variant replaces the bomb with an asteroid, which Dr. Evil (Myers), the Dutch psychopath Goldmember (Myers – and, boys and girls, can you figure out why they call him "Goldmember"?) and the Scottish bully Fat Bastard (Myers) draw into collision with Earth to disastrous consequences. Why do they want to do this? I must have missed that part.

Anyhow, they are opposed in this effort by swingin' '60s Brit secret agent Austin (Myers), in Carnaby Street colors, with bad teeth, froufrou shirts and Edwardian jackets in shades of paisley and plaid unseen this side of a bad LSD experience. The only key part that Myers doesn't play is Mini-Me (Verne Troyer), the pint-size clone of Evil. But he's probably working on a way to do that next time.

That would be a shame. Troyer, alone among the regulars, gets a real showcase. He has developed into a skillful film performer, at least within the narrow confines of the Austin Powers series. He plays extremely well off Myers in whatever role Myers happens to be occupying at the time; I loved to watch the flow of bafflement and illumination on that tiny face of his. He's the one actor who can stand against the Myers juggernaut and walk away unscathed.

Even token beauty Beyonce Knowles, of Destiny's Child, registers dimly as Foxxy Cleopatra, a '70s-style jive-talking FBI agent who gets into the picture via time travel, probably the series's weakest stroke.

But the level of inventiveness remains high. Another reliable source of comedy is the appearance of various uptown movie celebs, who are obviously delighted to be included in the fun. You'd be surprised how high-powered some of these folks are. I'd tell you who they are, but I'd be killed shortly thereafter, so best leave it at that.

Of course what really drives the film is Myers. The brazenness of his ego is dwarfed only by the size of his talent, and in this one, he really lets rip. The core of it is the true narcissist's shamelessness: He has no repression holding him back, and you can't embarrass him. Thus all his characters, with the exception of Fat B. (rather diminished in this film), have a sublimely unique way of moving, slightly effeminate, a projection of softness and decadence. It's not that they're gay, it's just that they're in that zone of sexual androgyny whose most salient aspect is a lack of connection to either sex. Their swishiness expresses nothing except the idea that swishiness is funny; it is original unto itself. (Martin Short, another fabulous Canadian talent who graduated from "Saturday Night Live," has the same powerful vibration.)

This is only amplified when, as he frequently does in a variety of guises, Myers is moved to dance. He's a very bad dancer, yet his utter lack of fear and shame is the fuel that drives the charming power of his rottenness. The world has entirely too many excellent dancers; it needs more bad ones.

AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER (PG-13, 95 minutes) Contains humor that is exactly at a 13-year-old's level. At area theaters.


© 2002 The Washington Post Company

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