Film and TV

Powers Off

Not much has changed in the ten years since Mike Myers used the Wayne's World movies as a personal launch pad, and then tipped his James Bond-spoofing Austin Powers hand when he became popular enough to reap the rewards. Now those spy-movie sendups -- with the major characters played by Myers himself -- are back amid the cockamamie spectacle that is Austin Powers in Goldmember.

Making some vague attempt (Mel Brooks's movies are funnier) to be fair (so are the Zuckers') to Myers (or give it up for Peter Sellers) and his oeuvre (heck, just rent some Monkees videos), this third Austin Powers movie is about as funny as the first two, scoring laughs on about 60 percent of its attempts. The other bits range from saccharine preciousness (another cutesy rap video -- how novel!) to flat-out begging (asides to the camera that would embarrass Mickey Dolenz), but, indeed, the majority of the chuckles arrive intact. This is no mean feat, considering that Myers's universe of humor is about as vast as his perineum. Pee, poop, more pee, bit of wind, lots more pee, nasty mockery of childbirth (which the ladies at my screening seemed to enjoy) and endless erectile gags. One knows better, but one laughs a bit.

If Myers's material hasn't changed much -- a rehearsal day on the Wayne's World set in '91 found him assaulting innocent bystanders with an underwear cavort -- he has become increasingly insistent in its delivery. On the surface, Goldmember is about the struggle of mojo-mad secret agent Powers (Myers) against effete archvillain Dr. Evil (Myers) and repulsive Fat Bastard (Myers), as well as the new, villainous and tiresome Dutch caricature, Goldmember (Myers). The usual suspects also return in Mini Me (Verne Troyer), Scott Evil (Seth Green), Basil Exposition (Michael York), Number Two (Robert Wagner) and Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling). But regardless of the sketchy interactions that form this sequel's "plot," director Jay Roach (the first two of these, the funnier Meet the Parents) reveals his prime directive: to keep the frame filled with Myers's grotesquely made-up mug, never mind the (oft-cited) bollocks.

Admittedly, Myers and co-screenwriter Michael McCullers (Undercover Brother) are clever enough to enhance the franchise formula this time around. Although journalists are instructed to "zip it" regarding the movie's utterly unsurprising plethora of celebrity guests -- I'm gonna leak one: Clint Howard has a cameo! -- it's the new characters who bring fresh air to all this flatulence. As Number Three -- aka "The Mole" -- Fred Savage (The Wonder Years) gives great poker face. (He also allows Myers to spew about his loathing of imperfection in others; I'm surprised there hasn't been a character called English Muffin.) In the "Powers girl" role this time around is Beyoncé Knowles of Destiny's Child. Though not called upon to be particularly funny (her lines must have gone to Undercover Brother's Sistah Girl), she's wonderfully engaging as Foxxy Cleopatra, Powers's 1975-based squeeze (don't ask).

Not surprisingly, the best giggles come from veteran thesp Sir Michael Caine, who appears with great authority in the role of Powers's father, Nigel. The script harps a little too thuddingly on the popular absentee-father shtick -- seems Austin's something of an abandoned child -- but otherwise, Caine hasn't been this funny since Jaws: The Revenge. His jovially incomprehensible English-English conversation with Austin is a scream, as is his elegant manner of dispatching one of Dr. Evil's disposable henchmen. Worth the price of admission.

All in all, you know exactly what you're going to get with this machine -- spy spoof for the daytime-TV crowd -- which is a curse but probably, for most, a cheap blessing. Giggle at the farting submarine. Chortle at the Japanese caricatures. Wheeze at the little guy doing nasty things. The movie will leave you smiling forgetfully on the way out, and Myers will have done his job.

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Gregory Weinkauf