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A Royal Flush 

Mike Myers uses the bathroom. He just does it differently than most people. The former Saturday Night Live standout uses the bathroom -- and all the body parts and their associated functions -- to fuel much of his comic inspiration. He readily admits that the idea for the Austin Powers character bubbled up in the bathtub, which possibly explains where much of the rest of the film franchise's irresistibly bawdy humor comes from, too.

Bawdy, but beautifully imagined. Zany like the early Steve Martin, Myers is an intelligent buffoon who understands that smart comedy isn't necessarily synonymous with cerebral comedy. Silly doesn't always mean stupid, and funny doesn't always mean grown-up. In Myers' case, this means that humor can, in fact, hit below the belt and stay there.

It's no easy proposition. Lowbrow comedy minus an overarching intelligence equals Adam Sandler; clever poop jokes in a quick-witted comedic context equals Mike Myers. There's a madness to his method, but his sly delivery invariably betrays that he "gets it," that, sometimes, the funniest part of the joke is getting away with the joke in the first place. Austin Powers in Goldmember goes to great lengths to set up and sell its silliest parts (all with a wink and a nod), often telegraphing the coming punchlines well ahead of time. Once the audience is in on the gag and can see it coming a mile away, the very presence of the joke -- no matter how low or obvious or cliched or repetitious -- can itself become funnier than the punchline. What would have been only a cheap laugh is subverted by the wiliest form of audience manipulation.

The brilliance of having a randy and slightly addled English spy from the '60s unfrozen in the present day is that the conceit opens the door to all sorts of politically incorrect, socially unacceptable humor. And we're not talking dirty here; there is a surprising asexual innocence to Myers' Austin Powers shtick, a far-from-lascivious, little-boy glee that charms and mortifies and amuses.

The newest movie is very much in the vein of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Goldmember, however, is the new gold standard by which all such humor should now be judged. It's awful, it's gross, and it's outrageously funny. Whatever script exists is really only a loose construct for the billion or so comedy bits to come, as Myers ricochets from scene to scene. The eponymous Goldmember is Johann van der Smut, a Dutch madman (played by Myers in gold lamé and roller skates) gelded and gilded, we are told, in an unfortunate smelting accident. Recruited by Dr. Evil, Goldmember kidnaps Powers patriarch, Nigel (played with equal parts charm and smarm by the incomparable Michael Caine), and whisks him back to the 1970s. Powers' efforts to confront his daddy issues -- while simultaneously thwarting his own many alter egos -- is what sets the story in motion.

There's not much more specific detail to tell. Dr. Evil and Mini-Me do hilarious time in a Georgia prison. Foxxy Cleopatra, a '70s jive-talking club singer/secret agent played with surprising camp by Beyonce Knowles, teams up with Austin to take down Goldmember. Scott Evil (Seth Green) finally joins the family business. What else? Cameos galore, a mole with a mole, submarines, evil henchmen physicals, the Japanese, Myers' now-signature trompe l'oeil scenes, and a few priceless recollections of a young Master Austin and a young Master Evil. And, of course, an improbably named weapon of mass destruction, this time titled Preparation H (preparations A through G having failed), just another elaborate excuse for a few ass jokes.

Number Two and Frau Farbissina, used so comically in the first two films, reappear but almost as bystanders to the mayhem. Sadly, as the friction between Dr. Evil and Scott dissolves, so does a large part of Scott's comic value. But if Seth Green's Austin Powers star wanes, Verne Troyer's absolutely explodes. A prop no longer, Mini-Me actively participates in some of Goldmember's funniest moments. Fat Bastard is back, too, more disgusting than ever and twice as hilarious.

Myers has said in interviews that he is interested in finding something funny, pushing it until it isn't funny any more, and persevering until his audience suddenly discovers that it's funny again. He frequently uses the 15-minute-long morning pee of the first Austin Powers movie as a specific example. A shorter scene, he argues, would have been worth a chuckle or two; prolonging it measurably heightens the hilarity. It's quite possible to say the same about the Austin Powers trilogy. International Man of Mystery was humorous and surprising, a bolt from the blue. The Spy Who Shagged Me had its moments, stretching out the laughter but growing thin in places. Only in this third installment, when the jokes should be old and tired and difficult to sustain but aren't, does the comic ingenuity of Myers truly break through. And silly becomes a strangely sophisticated, satisfying adventure.

click to enlarge It's a scream: Michael Caine, Beyonce Knowles and the incomparable Mike Myers in Austin Powers in Goldmember
  • It's a scream: Michael Caine, Beyonce Knowles and the incomparable Mike Myers in Austin Powers in Goldmember
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