Call for Feature Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

Film
cover art

Austin Powers in Goldmember

Director: Jay Roach
Cast: Mike Myers, Beyoncé Knowles, Verne Troyer, Michael York, Seth Green, Michael Caine

(New Line Cinema; US theatrical: 26 Jul 2002; 2002)

Boy story

Beyoncé Knowles is looking fine. Sitting astride a Ducati for Movieline, parting her perfect lips for Maxim, cavorting with Mike Myers for EW, the girl is indisputably golden. During her live performance on Leno, she pulled out funky stops evoking Tina Turner. And her sensational hoola-hooping in the music video for “Work It Out” is all right too, a giddy, gorgeous turn drawn from the artist’s own childhood expertise.


Beyoncé also looks terrific in Austin Powers in Goldmember. Cast as “whole lotta woman” Foxxy Cleopatra, she carries her formidable afro, hoop earring, and weapon with aplomb—most often while wearing platforms. Introduced on stage in club called Studio 69, she sings a strange, occasionally beguiling K.C. and the Sunshine Band medley, stitched together under the title “Hey, Goldmember.” Part disco, part funk, part Shirley Bassey, and part incoherent (not that there’s anything wrong with that), the number allows Knowles to show her wondrous stuff. Or rather, it would if the film was able to focus on her for any length of time.


In fact, the song serves mostly as background against which Austin Powers (Mike Myers) enters the ‘70s, complete with pimp hat, fur coat, cane, 6-inch platforms, and a purple Coupe de Ville with fuzzy dice parked outside. As he makes his way into the club, everyone looks him over, including Ms. Foxxy Cleopatra, who, it turns out, is one of the maestro’s many on-again-off-again girlfriends. She shoots him several instructional glances (“Meet me over there!”), which he is gleefully slow to uptake—the presumed hilarity of his entrance demands repeated shots of Myers, er, Austin, er, Goldmember (he being the new character Myers has devised for the film) making faces. By the time Foxxy’s performance is over, it’s been so cut up by the camera’s love for Himself, that she’s looking slightly less fine, and lots more pushed off to the side of the scene.


Goldmember, by the way, is “Dutch” as well as gay and double-jointed. It’s not precisely clear why he is any of these things, except, that Myers has frequently recalled that he went to European beaches, where he noted denizens’ affection for Speedos: somehow this observation has combined with Goldmember’s derivation from the Bond villain, not to mention his own affection for himself, his peeling skin (which he removes and consumes), and, more importantly, his metallic member (the result of a “smelting” accident), to form yet another playmate for Dr. Evil (Myers again). That would be in addition to Number 2 (Robert Wagner), Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling), Mini-Me (Verne Troyer), and his perpetually beleaguered son Scott (Seth Green), all looking a tad tired by now.


Austin and Goldmember and Foxxy are meeting up in ‘75 because, well, they can. It would appear that the most enduring aspect of the franchise, aside from Austin’s bad teeth and “Yeah, baby!” swagger, is the ability to time-travel, such that even as the plot remains mind-numbingly alike in all installments, something about the location might change (this film also uses the more familiar technique of flashbacks to Austin and Dr. Evil’s boarding school days, circa 1950s). Different style cars, different sized shoes and hair. But not to worry: the colors are bright, dance numbers are perky, and libidos are lively, whether the characters are set in the Swinging Sixties, the Psychedelic Seventies, or even the Oh-So-Po-Mo 2000s.


The so-called postmodern self-references of the previous Austin Powers films here become epidemic, though more is not exactly better. It’s just more. And it is repetitive. On some level, of course, this is the point: International Man of Mystery repeats James Bond, David Niven, and Peter Sellers (among other Mod Era allusions), The Spy who Shagged Me repeats International Man of Mystery, and now, Goldmember repeats and rehashes all. In case you’ve somehow missed the repetition business previously, this movie slams it home with an amusing spritz of Mission Impossible 2 (itself a repetition of a repetition), briefly poofed into the proceedings as a movie-within-the-movie. As you might imagine, all this reiterating and hyper-referencing soon become… repetitive.


This is one reason why the injection of blaxploitation princess Foxxy Cleopatra seemed like a good idea, cultural territory that Austin and Company had not slashed and burned already. But as her first scene hints, the girl doesn’t really have much to do here except pose in her bellbottoms and yell “Shazaam!” when she shoots or judo-chops someone, and sashay out of Austin’s bedroom in the morning, purring like she’s had a wild night. Much like an olden-days Bond girl, she’s reduced to yet another design element in Mike Myers’ All-Me-All-The-Time show.


Following their encounter in Studio 69, Foxxy convinces Austin to take her back with him to 2002, where they must stop Dr. Evil from using a “tractor beam” to destroy the world, again. Details hardly matter. Director Jay Roach and writer Myers are clearly unconcerned with plot per se, much less character. Austin Powers in Goldmember is a clunky traipse through a string of situations—a few scenes on Dr. Evil’s Dr. Evil-shaped submarine (whose preposterously expansive interior rivals that of the Spice Girls’ tour bus); a jaunt to Tokyo where Fat Bastard (Myers) is working as a sumo wrestler (a trip that reduces to an extended fart joke); a quick stay for Dr. Evil and Mini-Me in prison (where, in doo-rags and uniforms, they engage in a bizarre parody of Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life,” including a series of stereotypical rap-video images).


What you don’t see in prison might be the only surprise here, given Myers’ infamous penchant for body grotesqueries, everywhere on display in the rest of the film. Then again, it’s probably better not to imagine just what Mini-Me must do to survive his time inside. That’s not to say the film does not make hay of the Mini-Me body anxiety possibilities: he first appears in a snuggly on Dr. Evil’s chest, endures the usual rivalry with Scott, and, when he finally falls out with dad, the clone switches over to Austin’s side.


This sets up a series of little-and-alarming-body jokes. After Austin mistakes Mini-Me for an “assassin” and spends endless minutes slamming him and dropkicking him about the living room, they bond severely, Mini-Me becoming Mini-Austin, with ruffled ascot and blue velvet suit. Their sortie into Dr. Evil’s Lair includes one of those Little Rascals gags, where Austin rides atop Mini-Me’s shoulders inside one lab coat; it leads extremely indirectly to one of Myers’ favorite bits, the misread scene from behind a screen: this one involves Austin giving birth to Mini-Me, complete with shadows insinuating broken water and umbilical cord.


As jarring as this image seems, it is only one of many exploiting conventional father-son business, in particular the kind where mothers are irrelevant. Indeed, Austin’s caper this time involves reconciliation with his own absentee father Nigel (Michael Caine), himself a legendary spy and ladies’ man. And yes, Caine is repeating his own performance as spy Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File.


Austin and Nigel, Mini-Me and Dr. Evil and Scott and Number 2 and Goldmember: the males-in-various-stages-of-distress parade is long and, need you be reminded, self-replicating. For all their yapping about heterosexual coupling, none of Myers’ characters have much to do with girls. By the time Mini-Me takes to humping Foxxy Cleopatra’s leg, under Austin’s horrified and completely engaged gaze, her un-necessity becomes utterly clear. As Britney Spears sings on the soundtrack and for about 20 seconds in Goldmember, this is a movie all about “boys.”

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


Related Articles
10 Jan 2013
This apolitical movie takes the "Frankenstein" allegory to make us wonder if Sarah Palin, played perfectly by Julianne Moore, was a victim of an irresponsible political plan.
4 Nov 2012
The Campaign gets off to a solid start, but can't avoid the pratfalls of the trail.
10 Aug 2012
Like most things with politicians, (The Campaign's) promises go unrealized and unfulfilled.
10 Aug 2012
Cam's belligerent certainty makes him an ideal sort of candidate in The Campaign: no matter what happens, he can spin it, express his outrage, deny responsibility, blame someone else.
Comments
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.