Anything short of a billion gajillion dollars isn’t pay enough to spoil the fun by describing the opening of Austin Powers in Goldmember. Well, maybe for a million — okay, for 10,000 simoleons. Anything less isn’t enough to divulge the huge celebrities in one of the most delirious state-of-entertainment digests since Terrance and Phillip sang ”Uncle F**ka” in ”South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut.” Instead, I’ll just suggest that the caliber of guests eager to be seen under the same glitter ball with Austin Powers is a credit to the in-crowd popularity of the groovy International Man of Mystery in his third caper. And more specifically, it’s recognition of Jay Roach’s shagadelic creativity in directing the further adventures of Mike Myers’ velveteen-covered comic creation with such tossed-off zest: There’s more moviemaking comedy verve (and nerve) in the first 15 minutes of ”Goldmember” — and, intermittently, throughout this extravagant, uneven, retro-happy celebration of the movies as international setters of indelible style — than there is in all of ”Scooby-Doo,” ”Mr. Deeds,” and ”Men in Black II” combined.
They’re back, baby, way back in this biggest-yet installment, almost all the usual swingers: Austin and his nemesis, Dr. Evil; the doc’s rebellious son, Scott (Seth Green), and malleable pocket-size clone, Mini-Me (Verne J. Troyer); the various employees of Evil’s enterprises, including Number Two with his eye patch (Robert Wagner) and Frau Farbissina with her spit curls (Mindy Sterling); that guy who explains stuff like someone always does on spy TV shows, Basil Exposition (Michael York); and even the hideous hairy mountain of Scottish flesh and fetidness known as Fat Bastard. Myers plays Austin, Evil, and Fat again, and adds another hard-to-miss personage to his repertoire, the nefarious, freckled, Dutch, roller-skating playboy and criminal mastermind Johann van der Smut, known as Goldmember, who regularly interrupts his nasty pursuits (e.g., a plan for world domination dubbed ”Preparation H” ) to taste falling flakes of his own sun-roasted skin.
For all the rococo outrageousness of the old cast, for all the culty, comfy, campy pleasure in watching familiar cartoon characters reiterate familiar behavior (pinkie to mouth all over again), something just this side of shagaphobia results from too much exposure to too much Austin, too much Evil, and certainly too much Fat Bastard. Immediately following the glorious curtain-raiser, when the usual rhythms of Dr. Evil’s conference room set in, the energy drops precipitously, like blood sugar once a Snickers high has worn off. And you may find yourself thinking ”Here comes that costumed midget again.” Or musing ”What ever happened to that Elizabeth Hurley?”
But not for long, not once the movie’s mojo gets working. What’s golden about ”Goldmember,” and jolly clever, too, is how Roach, Myers, and Myers’ cowriter, former ”SNL” hand Michael McCullers, quickly and gracefully transfer the weight of mayhem off Austin’s Carnaby Street-clad shoulders and on to a whole new set of characters. The toothy spy himself, indeed, is almost always seen in conflict or collaboration with other, exotically unfamiliar players. And none is more right as rain, under the circumstances, than Michael Caine, cast as the gods always ordained as Austin’s Ur-swinging spy dad, Nigel.
It’s enough of a cheeky treat that Caine has joined the orgy: His own 1960s movie spy work (in spectacles, baby) as Harry Palmer in such movies as ”The Ipcress File” inspired the Britophiliac style of Mike Myers’ oeuvre in the first place — a cockney ‘ello that pops out of the corners where James Bond and Peter Sellers couldn’t reach. It’s even more sublime-y to send Austin and Nigel back, for various mysterious reasons, to 1975, the era of roller discos and blaxploitation queen Pam Grier, if only so that Austin can reunite with his old partner and shag honey Foxxy Cleopatra. Beyoncé Knowles, comely third of the best-selling girl group Destiny’s Child, is far softer in her feature-film acting debut as Foxxy than the original Afro chicks, but Knowles’ sweetness plays nicely against the badass swagger of her talk and the fabulousness of her wardrobe and ‘dos. (All props to costume designer Deena Appel for the threads.)
”Goldmember” leaves a few skid marks. But considering the expectations heaped on ”APIII” to top its predecessors, the movie is remarkably spry and inspired, even when roasting an old parody chestnut such as the meeting of Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling (”I’ve been expecting you,” Dr. Evil says in his maximum-security cell to the visiting Mr. Powers). And considering the desire to keep the big, warm laughs coming, there’s something quiet and fine about the prequel subplot set back in the day, when Austin and Dr. Evil were children, Nigel was a younger dad, too, and the choice between becoming a force for good or evil took shape in the schoolyard.
Mike Myers and Austin Powers may stick to their old Beatle boots, but they’ve both come a long way, luvvy. For proof, just look at all the A-list celebrities-I-won’t-mention happy to crash the party.