Film of the Week: 'Austin Powers' is back

By STEVE SAILER, UPI National Correspondent
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LOS ANGELES, July 25 (UPI) -- In 2000, Mike Myers outraged the film industry by deep-sixing his vehicle "Dieter" -- the screen version of his Saturday Night Live segment about a pretentious black-clad German aesthete -- simply because the script he co-wrote stunk.

Myers stated, "I cannot in good conscience accept $20 million and cheat moviegoers who pay their hard-earned money to see my work by making a movie with an unacceptable script."


An admirable stance, but after seeing what Myers considers an acceptable script -- his potty humor-dominated "Austin Powers in Goldmember" -- it's alarming to consider just how abysmal the "Dieter" screenplay must have been.

"Goldmember" reminds me of the old "Tonight Show," where after a couple of Johnny Carson's smart political jokes would sail right over the studio audience's heads, he'd grimly fall back on a toilet joke for a surefire laugh.


Here, though, infantile humor is not Myers' last resort, but his first choice. I'll assume that Myers' obsession with body-function jokes isn't purely a cynical money-grubbing ploy, but also a psychological reaction to his extreme personal squeamishness about all things physical. Still, I can barely remember the movie a week after I saw it.

And that's a shame, because Myers can do better. The best of his comedy benefits from his surprising intelligence and vast stock of information (not for nothing was Myers' beloved father an encyclopedia salesman).

"Wayne's World," for instance, wasn't just an easy satire on bonehead heavy-metal fans. Wayne turned out to be a rather erudite young man, as seen when he and his idol, glam rock god Alice Cooper, enjoy a didactic conversation backstage in Milwaukee:

"I think one of the most interesting things about Milwaukee," intones Cooper, "is that it's the only American city to elect three Socialist mayors."

An admiring Wayne exclaims to the camera, "Does this guy know how to party or what?"

That Wayne is smart enough to know better, yet wholeheartedly chooses the headbanger lifestyle says something about the male of the species that I'm not sure I fully want to comprehend.


Myers' other surprise hit, 1997's "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" was a sharp satire on the reverse generation gap. Myers had noticed that while the hippie era had been done to death in the movies, the immediately preceding Carnaby Street Mod scene had disappeared down the memory hole.

So, he created the ultimate Sixties swinger: the foppish fashion photographer, British secret agent, and all-around happy idiot Austin Powers.

Back in 1967, when his pinkie-sucking nemesis Dr. Evil (also played by Myers) escaped his clutches by having himself cryogenically frozen, Austin had himself put on ice to await him.

Dr. Evil returns in 1997 and threatens to blow up the world unless he's paid "the sum of ... (dramatic pause) ... one million dollars!" To battle the bald Belgian bad guy, British Intelligence defrosts their super-agent. Warned that society has changed since 1967, Austin blithely replies, "No doubt, love, but as long as people are still having promiscuous sex with many anonymous partners without protection while at the same time experimenting with mind-expanding drugs in a consequence-free environment, I'll be sound as a pound!"

It was a terrific premise, but Myers has never figured out what to do with Austin since the first movie. Fortunately, in the hugely popular 1999 sequel "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," Dr. Evil took over as the main character and developed an unlikely obsession with end-of-the-century American pop culture.


In "Austin Powers in Goldmember," though, Dr. Evil no longer is awkwardly discovering current media references -- he's mastered them. He now constantly free-associates as if he were Robin Williams on the David Letterman Show. Unfortunately, Myers is nowhere near as talented as Williams at this, and the random riffing distracts from Dr. Evil's once hilarious personality.

Myers' grotesquely obese Scotsman Fat Bastard is also back, although not by popular demand. And his newest role, the Dutch villain Goldmember, is dumb-foundingly unfunny. The heavy from Holland drives a car shaped like a wooden shoe, but that's about it for laughs.

Now that Austin has clashed with enemies from Belgium and the Netherlands, whom is he going to skewer in his next sequel: a Luxembourgian? Safe targets, no doubt; but the less likely an ethnic group is to protest satirical stereotyping, the duller they tend to be to parody.

The best thing that could happen to Myers would be if the relentless vulgarity of the PG-13 rated "Goldmember" inspires an outcry that leads the MPAA to toughen up its rating standards, in which PG-13 has become the all-purpose catch-all.

If he were threatened with a financially deleterious R rating for his next "Austin Powers" sequel if he just remakes the same toilet jokes, Myers would be forced to fall back on his creativity and brains.


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