Austin Powers in Goldmember: an ode to indecent joy.

Reviews of the latest films.
July 26 2002 12:02 PM

The Man With the Midas Schlong

Austin Powers in Goldmember is an ode to indecent joy; The Kid Stays in the Picture is almost as trippy.

Austin Powers in Goldmember: In the zone, baby
Austin Powers in Goldmember: In the zone, baby

Let us quickly dispel the notion that a great low comedy demands a great narrative—or a narrative at all. Coherence? Consistency? Suspense? Oh, behave. Those who complain that Austin Powers inGoldmember (New Line) is less a real movie than a bloated grab bag of infantile jokes don't seem to be in on the only joke that matters. Mike Myers is like a rich 12-year-old who rents out F.A.O. Schwartz, upends every toy in under two hours, and brings in strippers. He can get away with this privileged romp because he grooves on what he does in a way that none of his contemporaries—the people who put out such swill as Men in Black II and Mr. Deeds—can comprehend. I liked the last Austin Powers movie ( The Spy Who Shagged Me [1999]), but I adore Goldmember. It's rudely free-associational, like scatological scat-singing, like a hallucination on the themes of '60s and '70s pop culture by someone who longs to have been there and has the next-best thing to a time machine. It's an ode to indecent joy.

Advertisement

The movie opens badly—almost fatally—with a flurry of big-star cameos that might have seemed like a good idea but have nowhere to go: The star appears, the star gets a laugh, the star exits. The director, Jay Roach, can't give these showstoppers any momentum, and the fun palls quickly: Scattershot but thudding, it made me want to bolt after 15 minutes. Things begin to perk up with a rollicking number, "Daddy Wasn't There," written by Matthew Sweet and Myers and performed by "Ming Tea featuring Austin Powers" with lots of cute girls (birds) dancing and the camera zooming in and out. Then Austin visits Dr. Evil in prison in a Silence of the Lambs (1991) parody; there's a flashback to young Austin at school, razzed by a young (bald) Evil when his feckless dad, Sir Nigel Powers (Michael Caine), doesn't show up for graduation; then he's time-traveling back to 1975, to a roller-disco where Beyoncé Knowles as Foxxy Cleopatra is warbling "Hey, Goldmember" in a gold bikini, and a new movie goddess is born.

Knowles as Foxxy Cleopatra: a movie goddess is born
Knowles as Foxxy Cleopatra: a movie goddess is born

I'm admittedly puzzled about the Dutch supervillain, Goldmember (Myers), a bizarre, speckled creation with a habit of peeling off flakes of gold skin and announcing, "'Dat's a keeper." It has been a couple of decades since I've been to Holland so I have no idea what Myers is parodying—or if the mere idea of making fun of the Dutch is supposed to be a side-splitter. Maybe I'm just nostalgic for ethnic humor—because after awhile I was roaring at every Dutch joke like some kind of Belgian. But by then Goldmember had found its rhythm, with Dr. Evil doing a gangsta-rap version of "It's the Hard Knock Life" from Annie, with Evil and Mini-Me (Verne Troyer) tiptoeing past prison-yard spotlights in a bit that could have bubbled up from the collective unconscious of comedy. The writers, Myers and Michael McCullers, pluck zingers out of the air, juggle them, and toss them away with a flourish. They're in the zone, baby.

Goldmember is bigger than some of the Bond movies it parodies, but it's lighter on its feet than Casino Royale (1967) or any of the boorishly unmoored secret-agent comedies of the '60s. There's a disconcerting mole-adorned mole (Fred Savage) in Dr. Evil's organization ("Nice to mole you. Meet you.") and the best subtitles gag I've ever seen. Fat Bastard is back, but the poop jokes don't come as thick and fast this time: It's the piss jokes that will slay you. There's another smutty shadow play—silhouettes doing seemingly ghastly (sexual) things behind a screen—that might be the most gut-busting two or three minutes I've spent in a theater. Slapstick can be a religious experience: I imagine my Yiddish ancestors being reduced to puddles by routines like this and giving thanks to the great vaudevillian in the sky.

Winded, hacking, my belly aching, I still have a couple of piddly quibbles. The Britney Spears cameo is too much like the Pepsi commercial, and all the product placements (not as wall-to-wall as last time, but there are still too many) add a sticky note of commerce. The musical numbers more or less end in the first 45 minutes, and they're sensational enough to warrant one or two more in the second half. And it must be said (not for the first time) that no one except Myers really has a chance to cut loose. The dishy Knowles is just a straight man; Caine doesn't have enough material to live up to his great, snaggletoothed Cockney aplomb; and Myers plays most of the other characters. I'd like to see him whip up some crazy shtick for the few farceur impressionists in his league—for the likes of Dana Carvey, Martin Short, Chris Kattan, Lisa Kudrow, Jan Hooks, and Andrea Martin. But if Myers is the whole show here, he's a shagadelic one. You leave thinking you smoked something fantastic and wishing it weren't so many years between hits.

Robert Evans (left) buddies up with Roman Polanski
Robert Evans (left) buddies up with Roman Polanski

The Kid Stays in the Picture (USA Films), a documentary based on the memoir by former studio head and super-producer Robert Evans, is another sort of pipe dream, this one forged in the 20th century by Jews: running a studio, hanging by the pool with movie stars, and shtupping heartstopping (mostly shiksa) actresses. The film, directed by Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein, is a breezy hoot, and it's gorgeous to look at, with photos of Evans (who takes great photos) and assorted beautiful people drifting like 3-D cutouts over the swanky Hollywood backdrops. Evans delivers the narration, which is heavily distilled from the book—too heavily, I think. Many of the juicy details about sundry stars and directors are gone (perhaps Graydon Carter, a co-producer, didn't want to alienate any Vanity Fair cover subjects); what's left skips buoyantly along the surface. Evidently the richest material had no corresponding audiovisuals.

No, that's not entirely true. In the film's coup, Evans recounts how in 1970, when Paramount's board of directors was on the verge of pulling the plug (the studio was in last place financially among the majors), he and Mike Nichols quickly made a movie—a presentation, hosted by Evans, on the subject of Paramount's rosy prospects. And then we see it: an amazing piece of showmanship in which the young studio head finds just the right blend of modesty and braggadocio. The sudden present tense is startling: We are there.

In the book and documentary, Evans emerges as an agreeable (by Hollywood standards) nutcase who managed to succeed by generating publicity—which is the same way he plummeted, after a cocaine bust and such scandalous failures as the 1984 monstrosity The Cotton Club (about which he writes cogently). At arm's length he is certainly an endearing character. The book-on-tape (read by Evans) of The Kid Stays in the Picture became a cult item and renewed the producer's celebrity; the movie, unfortunately, illustrates things that are best left to the haze of memory, such as the acting career of Evans' most beloved ex, Ali MacGraw. Evans is delightful on the subject of Charles Bludhorn, the Gulf & Western executive who lifted him from the ranks of wannabes on the strength of a Peter Bart profile in the New York Times; and he's suitably appreciative of Jack Nicholson, who used his power to avert Evans' financial and emotional ruin. But it's unclear what we are to make of his paeans to Henry Kissinger, who did Evans a turn by showing up for the Godfather premiere on the eve of a crucial Vietnam War summit. Evans regards this as an act of friendship and not feckless star-fucking: Should Kissinger ever go on trial for war crimes, guess who'll be producing movies for the defense?

TODAY IN SLATE

Jurisprudence

Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Colorado Is Ground Zero for the Fight Over Female Voters

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

Culturebox

Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
  Life
The Slate Quiz
Sept. 18 2014 11:44 PM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.