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The triumph of the juvenile


It seems a shame that Ian Fleming, whose James Bond novels --- which nobody (including the screenwriters and directors) seems to read these days --- couldn't live long enough to witness the full impact of his creation on world culture and the visual arts. The Bond movies have transcended their literary originals to become a form unto themselves, employing a couple of generations of actors, full of self referential allusions and knowing asides, approaching a generally tiresome level of stylization and parody.

            Fleming's books also lead through convoluted paths to some excellent espionage novels, especially the works of Len Deighton and John le Carré, and a number of worthy films.

            On the other hand, alas, they provide the template for Mike Myers's Austin Powers oeuvre, the third volume of which has just appeared.

            Austin Powers in Goldmember continues the style and content of the previous films in the series --- International Man of Mystery and The Spy Who Shagged Me --- which means essentially an expensive, gaudy, frequently offensive exercise in pre-adolescent vulgarity. It makes a number of unsubtle allusions to other films besides the Bond flicks, including the Pam Grier blaxploitation movies and The Silence of the Lambs, and includes a handful of cameo appearances by such folks as Tom Cruise, Gwyneth Paltrow, Steven Spielberg, and even Katie Couric, presumably to broaden its appeal to a slightly more adult audience.

            Those moments, many of them accompanied by some painfully obvious and obnoxious product placements, however, cannot obscure the real target, males aged between 12 and 15, who may, after all, either constitute the majority of filmgoers or perhaps even embody the level of taste and perception of the average American consumer of entertainment.

            Goldmember conveys a kind of relentless and devoted commitment to the sort of humor that should appeal to the giggling, dirty-minded kid in all of us. Its verbal humor consists mostly of some horrible puns, a constant stream of sexual innuendo, whole lists of alternative names for the male genitalia, and a few obvious lines delivered with minimal skill and no wit at all. Mike Myers and his cohorts never pass up an opportunity to wink and mug, to underline the double entendres, or to dwell lovingly on the bodily functions.

            Some examples of the incessant juvenile humor include the early appearance of a set of lovely Japanese twins named Fook Yu and Fook Mi, the frequent mention of the title character's 14-karat substitute sexual equipment, a whole host of sight gags based on the partial obscuring of subtitles or the misspelling of names, and some remarkably sadistic slapstick. Another batch of penis jokes and gags culminates in a lengthy, involved business employing both Austin Powers (Myers, of course) and the cult favorite, Mini Me (Verne J. Troyer).

            All that pales, however, in comparison with Mike Myers's absolutely obsessive fascination with urination, defecation, and flatulence, which propels several long and tediously detailed sequences.

            In addition to Austin Powers, Mike Myers takes on three other and very different roles --- Dr. Evil, Austin's archenemy; the loud, obese Scotsman, Fat Bastard (another example of the movie's level of wit); and the title character, a Dutchman with the nasty habit of peeling off and devouring his own skin. Aside from a talent for the disgusting --- he even repels Dr. Evil --- Goldmember is colossally unsuccessful and remarkably unfunny, the least effective element in the movie.

            Grossly obese, horribly crude in speech and action, and absolutely devoted to the toilet, Fat Bastard apparently expresses the aspect of Myers's personality that inspires the majority of the puerile jokes and gags, and really defines the picture; he may even serve as the truest version of Myers himself, a horribly fat and disgusting creature struggling to escape from the confines of Myers's compact body and adolescent manner.

            The producers of Goldmember discuss their film in the press material with the hushed awe and aesthetic wonder usually reserved for works like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, helpfully pointing out its deeply touching themes of family and parenthood, fathers and sons. Michael Caine, in fact, utterly fails to distinguish himself as Nigel Powers, Austin's accomplished father --- I am sure I am not ruining the movie by revealing that he also turns out to be Evil's father as well (take that, Darth Vader!) --- and of course Dr. Evil delights in his two sons, the clone Mini Me and a natural son, played by an absolutely talentless actor named Seth Green.

            In the past, especially in his television work on Saturday Night Live, Mike Myers has displayed a great deal of versatility and some really penetrating wit. His best characters, like the goofy, guitar-playing Wayne of Wayne's World, and the German critic Dieter, who so closely resembles so many deconstructionists, postmodernists, and other academic theorists that he is barely a parody, demonstrate the depth of his perception and creativity.

            The Austin Powers movies, on the other hand, may earn him untold millions of dollars but they diminish and vitiate his past achievement. He may aspire to emulate the Peter Sellers of Dr. Strangelove or the Alec Guinness of Kind Hearts and Coronets, but the mere mention of those names and those movies indicates the chasm between his work and theirs.

            On a final note, recall that George W. Bush likes to entertain the sycophants of the press with an imitation of the gestures of Mini Me, which seems entirely appropriate for a number of reasons, not the least that he is a sort of Mini Him.

Austin Powers in Goldmember, starring Mike Myers, Michael Caine, Beyoncé Knowles, Fred Savage, Seth Green, Michael York, Robert Wagner, Mindy Sterling, Verne J. Troyer, Aaron Himmelstein, Josh Zuckerman, Nobuyuki Matsuhisa; written by Mike Myers and Michael McCullers; directed by Jay Roach. Cinemark Tinseltown; Hoyts Greece Ridge; Loews Webster; Pittsford Plaza Cinema; Regal Culver Ridge; Regal Eastview; Regal Henrietta.