The trouble with the last Austin Powers spy-spoof film, “The Spy Who Shagged Me,” was that it squandered all its cleverness on gross-out gags and sexual references. Those jokes work once, if you’re not too embarrassed to laugh, but they can’t propel a film to the level of quality that can stand up to multiple viewings.
The new film, “Austin Powers in Goldmember,” has its share of bodily function-based humor, but not nearly as much of it. The grossest moments, in fact, seem out of place because they required no imagination. (Austin Powers in a basket full of sumo wrestlers’ jockstraps? Anyone could think of that.) The others, you sort of forgive, because at least some creativity was involved.
And creativity is in great supply in “Goldmember,” possibly the funniest film of the series and certainly the most loopy, anarchic and manic. It begins with a glorious parody involving several celebrity cameos, then quickly re-establishes what fans already know: Madman Dr. Evil is the funniest character here, far surpassing swinging British spy Austin Powers himself, who plays straightman in his own film.
Mike Myers plays both roles, along with the plus-sized Fat Bas**** and a new character, a limber Dutch villain named Van Der Smut, nicknamed Goldmember (don’t ask why). Myers has found a fun new thing to do when delivering his lines: He occasionally drops down a few octaves to speak one word in a low, whispery voice. There is no real reason for this to be funny, but the fact that it spreads among all four of his characters tickles me.
Myers, for all his mugging and pandering knows his way around a joke. He even finds fresh new comedy in the age-old bit where someone has an abnormality — in this case a huge, hairy mole on the face of Fred Savage — and everyone else tries not to mention it.
The plot has Dr. Evil, bent as ever on world domination, finding a way to cause a meteor to crash into the earth, thus melting the ice caps and causing a global flood. He is still accompanied by the non-verbal clone/son/plaything Mini-Me (Verne Troyer) and his more traditionally conceived son Scott (Seth Green), who is beginning to display signs of evilness.
Family relations are what this installment is all about, with Austin’s absentee father Nigel (Michael Caine) involved — he’s a spy, too — as well as Dr. Evil’s own father-abandonment issues.
But it is all just an excuse for a merry series of parodies, references, and good old-fashioned goofiness, all maintained while keeping only half an eye on the plot. There are parodies of videos by Jay-Z and Michael Jackson, allusions to “Silence of the Lambs,” and a hysterical moment where Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling), in full white-trash regalia, visits lover-boy Dr. Evil in prison.
Some bits are recycled from the other films. This ought not to have happened, because Myers (who co-wrote the script with “Spy Who Shagged Me” writer Michael McCullers) and director Jay Roach clearly have enough new ideas up their sleeves. Witness the enjoyable sequence where a Japanese man’s English subtitles convey the wrong meaning due to some of the letters appearing against a white background. (For example, when he suggests Austin eat some shitake mushrooms, the “-ake mushrooms” part is obscured.)
The parody of ’70s blaxploitation films — including Beyonce Knowles as Austin’s new love Foxxy Cleopatra — is short-lived, which is a shame, considering the wealth of material available there. Many jokes fall flat, too, but a surprisingly high number of them succeed. It’s a boy’s movie, for sure, but Myers no longer seems self-indulgent and hammy. He seems to have made this one for the audience, rather than for himself and a few friends.
B+ (1 hr., 34 min.; )