Austin Powers in Goldmember
dir. Jay Roach
Opens Fri July 26 at various theaters.

We've all seen little kids discover something that makes their parents laugh, then proceed to do it again and again until the original gesture--a picked nose, a somersault, a belch--becomes not only not funny, but nauseating, sad, and ultimately, grounds for punishment. But if repetition lies near the heart of comedy, then Mike Myers must be something like an aorta. In the 15 years since Myers came to prominence on Saturday Night Live, he has discovered that comedic success boils down to one simple truth: If they laugh at something, do it again (Schwing!). Then, do it again (Touch my monkey!). And again (Oh, behave!). And then, once every thin dime of laughter has been squeezed from a premise, invent a new one and, yes, repeat.

Myers' formula has proven not only successful, but staggeringly successful. His fans become like franchise operations for whatever catch phrase he happens to be milking at any given interval. This is not a new phenomenon; damn near every famous comedian has had at least one signature gesture or line, and the instantly recognizable phrase has been the engine of the success of many a sketch show before Saturday Night Live. But SNL is somehow the most flagrant exemplar of repetition comedy, if only because the show's long life has brought about a kind of cynical perfection of the lather-rinse-repeat formula. And since the death of John Belushi and the decline of Dana Carvey, no SNL regular has made better use of that formula than Mike Myers. Fortunately for him (and occasionally us), Myers is one of the most naturally funny men in the world. But nothing is sadder than watching a funny person grope for laughs, which is about all there is left inside Austin Powers, Myers' most lucrative creation to date.

Goldmember is the third and (one can only hope) last film in the Austin Powers series. Not surprisingly, it's basically identical to its predecessors, despite a handful of vaguely postmodern devices that get thrown into the mix for the sake of--what, originality? Hell, no. Inspiration? Not likely, although there are a couple of casting choices (Michael Caine as Austin's father, Beyoncé Knowles as the super-fly Foxy Cleopatra) that prove the people in charge of the franchise aren't completely dead inside. But even the scattered gut laughs and tricky little reflexive gambits (celebrity cameos, etc.) the filmmakers come up with to enliven the proceedings don't go as far as you might hope. The truth is that Goldmember, like The Spy Who Shagged Me, and really, every film Myers has ever helped create (with the possible exception of the underrated So I Married an Ax Murderer), is just one sketch in search of a TV show: a couple of lines for people to repeat when the picture ends, a handful of raunchy sight gags, a passel of doubles entendres, and 70 minutes or so of dead filler, poo jokes, and the most egregious product placements this side of a basketball stadium.

What is funny about Austin Powers is, obviously, Myers himself. He's one of those rare, wonderful humans who doesn't really have to do anything but blink (or maybe try on a fake Scots accent) to make me laugh until I ache. His performances in Goldmember are no exception. Though Powers himself is getting a bit soft, Dr. Evil remains a hysterical creation to behold, and the movie is at its best when you can all but hear the crew dying of laughter at what can only be improvisatory riffs. The movie is at its worst at almost all other times, because, let us not forget, Austin Powers movies have no purpose other than to wring vacant laughs from a parody of a genre--'60s mod spy films--that was pretty much self-parody to begin with. And since the source material was only funny when it wasn't supposed to be, the non-Myers comedy is thin and tinny. The other actors all give off the noxious aroma of lucky bit players who mistake their proximity to greatness as evidence of their own worth, so the performances are complacent and embarrassing. There are chuckles here and there, but the prevailing wind is cynical, which my dictionary defines as "selfishly or callously calculating" and "skeptical of the motives of others." If there's a better way to describe Goldmember, I'd be happy to hear it. Just as long as I never have to hear another human being say "shagadelic" for the rest of my natural life.

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