It's good news and bad news for the latest installment of Mike Myers' spy spoof franchise, "Austin Powers in Goldmember". The good news is that it is a marked improvement from the last entry, "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me", especially in the first ten minutes. The bad news is that after the stunning opening sequence, it is still a mediocre comedy that mostly lacks the humor and spontaneity of the first film, "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery".
If there is one reason to see "Austin Powers in Goldmember", it would have to be the film's opening scene, which is a movie-within-a-movie that spoofs John Woo's "Mission: Impossible 2", right down to the acrobatic action sequences and double-fisted shootouts. In addition to making you think that you have accidentally walked into a better movie, this 'Hollywood version' of Austin Powers features a number of great A-list cameos. After that, it starts to go downhill, as international man of mystery Austin Powers (Mike Myers) does his obligatory opening musical number during a Hollywood studio tour (though having Britney Spears being revealed to be a fembot was an interesting touch).
The story truly kicks off when Austin manages to catch Dr. Evil (Myers) in the first act. For his heroic acts, he is knighted by the Queen of England, though he is disappointed to learn of the conspicuous absence of his father, Nigel Powers (Michael Caine of "Miss Congeniality"), during the ceremony. Later, he learns that Nigel has been kidnapped and taken back in time to the year 1975 by the evil Dutch mastermind Goldmember (Myers), so-named because of a smelting accident. Without any time to waste, Austin goes back in time to rescue his father from Goldmember's swinging disco club. There, he is reunited with former flame Foxxy Cleopatra (Beyoncé Knowles of Destiny's Child, in her feature-film debut) who, despite some water under the bridge, decides to help Austin take down Goldmember. Meanwhile, back in the present, Dr. Evil and his minion Mini-me (Verne Troyer) escape from prison and set in motion a plan to destroy the earth with a solid gold asteroid.
The plot of this latest installment follows essentially the same pattern as "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me", in which a scant plot serves only to tie together a series of hit-and-miss gags that tend to run on long after they cease to be funny (if at all), with the running time being padded with extended musical numbers and celebrity cameos. Mind you, Myers is able to rise above the creative bankruptcy that plagues the franchise with the occasional moment of hilarity, such as Dr. Evil and Mini-me's rendition of Jay-Z's "Hard Knock Life" that is shot like a music video, a bit with obscured English subtitles while Austin conducts his investigation in Japan (imagine what happens to 'eat some shitake mushrooms' in white lettering being selectively obscured by white objects in the background), and a run-in with two Japanese twins named 'Fook Yu' and 'Fook Mi'. Unfortunately, a number of other gags don't work, such as the jabs at blaxploitation cinema through Foxxy Cleopatra, a cameo by Nathan Lane ("Isn't She Great") in Goldmember's club, an unfunny guest appearance by MTV reality-TV phenomenon "The Osbornes", and the new character of Goldmember, who is as funny as the concept behind his character-- a man with a 'funny' Dutch accent who has a habit of peeling of his skin and eating it (oh yeah, that will get them rolling in the aisles). But overall, most of the gags are the same brand of toilet humor that was prominent in the first sequel, and the movie is once again only funny because Myers throws so many at the audience that a few of them are bound to stick.
Thankfully, "Austin Powers in Goldmember" is not a complete rehash of the two previous films. Some new revelations are made about Austin and Dr. Evil, including a flashback sequence detailing their time in spy academy together. Scott Evil (Seth Green) finally begins to take after his father, which leads the jilted Mini-me to have a change of heart in terms of which side he wants to be on. As Austin's father, Michael Caine hams it up as the irreverent Nigel Powers, and director Jay Roach makes good use of some old footage of Caine from the 1967 film "Hurry Sundown". Rounding out the cast are returning Michael York as Basil Exposition, Robert Wagner as Number Two, Mindy Sterling as Frau Farbissina, and new arrival Fred Savage (of TV's "The Wonder Years" fame) as a mole with a mole.
Instead of diminishing returns, the films of the "Austin Powers" franchise seem to be doing the opposite with respect to the box office, with each successive entry raking in higher and higher ticket sales. Unfortunately, the same is not true when one looks at the creative aspects of the films. For fans of the series, "Austin Powers in Goldmember" offers more of the same recycled humor that was apparent in "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me". While there are some moments of brilliance, particularly the film's standout opening sequence, this latest film is evidence that the franchise is indeed subject to diminishing returns in the creative department.