- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

The most discouraging tossup question of the summer movie season: Which comedy franchise appears to be laboring harder to remain amusing, "Men in Black" or "Austin Powers"?
Both began as witty and rollicking surprises in the summer of 1997. Judging from installment No. 2 of the former and installment No. 3 of the latter, which opens today, "Men in Black" has the more severe staleness problem. However, there's scant room for complacency in the "Powers" camp, where Mike Myers seemed reluctant to cook up "Austin Powers in Goldmember," at once a weirdly titled and extremely spotty sequel.
One of the guest stars, Michael Caine, who has a small role as Austin's pop, Nigel Powers, got the distinct impression that it would be difficult to talk Mr. Myers into another encore. In fact, he might be grateful if the audience doesn't demand it.
The movie reinforces this impression. It begins and ends with sequences that rely so heavily on uncredited guest stars, whose fleeting appearances will remain safely concealed in this review, that two thoughts inevitably predominate: Hollywood folks would love to be in an "Austin Powers" comedy, if only for a twinkling, and Mr. Myers would be overjoyed to entrust the franchise he created to enthusiasts who still find it a novelty.
To make thematic sense, the new title actually should be "Austin Powers in Where's Poppa?" The carry-over Bond spoof that accounts for a new, painfully superfluous archvillain, putatively inspired by Auric Goldfinger and disguised as a Dutch fruitcake called Goldmember, confronts us with a fourth impersonation by Mr. Myers. It's far from a triumph.
Supposedly, Goldmember's lust for the precious metal cost him a sex organ in a smelting calamity years earlier. It's implied that a gleaming and perhaps radioactive replica has been attached.
The character affects an accent that no doubt will seem hilarious if you agree that Dutchmen who pronounce "father" as "faja" are a scream. Made up to resemble a kind of desiccated Henry Gibson, the freakish newcomer also is given trick double-jointed limbs.
In a manner of speaking, he's a double Dutch fiasco. Is he a useful addition? Not by a long shot. If anything, you're reminded of how sensible it was for the Bond apparatus to ration one Spectre archvillain for separate installments, preventing a congestion of Dr. Nos, Blofelds and Goldfingers.
Goldmember kidnaps Nigel Powers and time-travels back to 1975. Austin follows and reunites with an old flame, the very cheerful and photogenic pop singer Beyonce Knowles of Destiny's Child as a Pam Grier homage called Foxxy Cleopatra. She returns to the present with Austin and the rescued Nigel. They catch up with Goldmember in a secret submarine lair near Tokyo, sharing company with the estimable Evil family.
Unfortunately, Mr. Myers and his writing collaborator, Michael McCullers, seem to be anticipating premature retirement for both the reigning troublemaker, Dr. Evil, and his devoted clone, Verne J. Troyer as Mini Me, the best inspiration of the 1999 sequel, "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me." A curious imbalance emerged in that movie as Dr. Evil began to overshadow Austin conspicuously as a comic headliner. Fine-tuning a new sequel appeared to demand an upgrade for the ostensible hero.
Instead, we're left with the possibly deflating impression that future evil of a ridiculous sort will have to be entrusted to Dr. Evil's natural and recently demoted son, Scott, played by Seth Green. It will be fascinating to see if the franchise can survive that passing of the baton. Quite apart from edging him toward retirement, Mr. Myers seems unable to keep Dr. Evil in supercilious trim.
Even his enunciation of the name "Mini Me" has gone alarmingly flat. Savoring each self-flattering syllable no longer thrills him. It remains to be seen if the hints of disenchantment will spoil things for the audience.
Austin yearns for "validation" from his missing father, reportedly AWOL from numerous highlights of his son's career, dating back to boarding school. The recurrent farcical conflicts between Dr. Evil, the absurd international criminal, and Austin, the absurd superspy, become hostage to a grandiose reconciliation of wayward fathers and sons.
It's as if Mr. Myers wanted to write himself into a corner as an escape hatch. He'll have to subject every Powers and every Evil to a merciful attack of amnesia if he decides to resume the series personally.
For the most part, the film seems to be torturing a premise that has outworn its freshness and might prefer to rest in peace. It is a comfort to reflect that so many sequels are being hurled into this summer's competitive furnace. There's bound to be a refreshing shortage next summer.

TITLE: "Austin Powers in Goldmember"
RATING: PG-13 (Frequent sexual innuendo and coarse slapstick humor, including a number of gags predicated on urination; farcical but sometimes persistent simulations of violence)
CREDITS: Directed by Jay Roach
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes

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