Austin Powers in Goldmember

Gen X Review Austin PowersI hate Austin Powers.

I hate his stupid suits and his faux English accent and his dumb, tacky catch phrases. I detest the way the Union Jack is splattered over everything this jerk owns as though it’s his personal signature. Powers is relentlessly tiresome, like the Energizer Bunny or that MCI nerd with the cell phone. It’s like being trapped in a Toys R’ Us with one of those annoying brats who needs to pull every trigger of every cheap rat-ta-ta-tat machine gun over and over again.

“Hey Baby!” he says. “Groovy, baby,” he snarls insipidly. “Shagadellic, baby--”

Yes, we get it: Austin Powers is from the 1960s. He calls everyone baby, because he’s from that era. He’s a bag if clichés and it’s funny, you see, because he doesn’t understand how stupid he sounds.

“Oh yeah,” he says, grinning until all ten feet of his big, yellow teeth emerge from behind his lips, “drink Pepsi, baby!”

Yep, I hate Powers -- but the new film Goldmember isn’t too awful. Less a cohesive film than a collection of mostly amusing scenes in search of a central plot or at least a sustainable joke, the newest Austin Powers film is everything you’d expect from exposure to the first two movies in the series. It adds another couple characters to the Myers pantheon, diluting the Austin Powers in the film (which I appreciate) but it feels like it could use a little dialysis.

Austin Powers (Mike Myers ) is a super spy extrodinair, with a groovy pad and high-visibility Union Jack Jaguar convertible, but when he’s knighted by the queen of England and his dad doesn’t even SHOW UP it becomes apparent that the guy has got some major daddy issues.

Matters degenerate when Powers’ arch enemy, Dr. Evil (Mike Myers, again), and a 1970s disco villain named Goldmember (Yes, it’s Myers) combine forces and kidnap Austin’s dad, played by someone who is not Mike Myers. Powers pursues the villains back to 1975, where he enlists the help of Foxxy Cleopatra -- also played by someone other than Mike Myers, though I’m sure he considered the part -- a former lover an CIA agent, to help get his dad back...

But forget this, since the real plot involves Dr. Evil’s plan to use a tractor beam to pull down a huge asteroid made of pure gold. He tries to hold the world hostage...

No, forget that, too, since the really important part of the film is the odd subplot involving the mysterious origins of Dr. Evil and how he and Austin...

Hmm, no, that’s not it, either...

Goldmember is mostly a very loose collection of skits and celebrity cameos. Taken this way, it’s not a bad film, though it is certainly no Moby Dick or even Dick Tracy. The film’s physical comedy is probably the only place it outshines a SNL bit. It may not be Shakespeare, but Goldmember’s juvenile attraction to pee pees, fart humor and BO is contagious. Films like this remind you of when bodily functions were funny and not just mildly unpleasant.

The humor is often of the repetitive, obsessive or irritating variety, but the good gags -- like one involving a shadowplay where Austin appears to have very unusual, er, parts -- are clever, if not exactly hilarious.

Goldmember himself is, well, not very funny. He lost his genitalia is “an unfortunate smelting accident,” roller skates and eats his own flaking skin. Dr. Evil is much more interesting than Powers, but so much about these characters has become codified that they really don’t have much life left in them.

Fat Bastard (played by some guy named Myers or something...) also reappears, for those who thought he was the high point of the last Austin Powers’ film. A grosser, less appealing obese person has not appeared since David Lynch’s Dune, but I’m sure kids will think the Scottish fat man is a riot. It’s funny when fat people make fun of themselves, rub their breasts obscenely and, well, break wind, isn’t it.

Isn’t it?

(Your answer is an indication of how much you would enjoy the film -- baby.)


Road to Perdition


Gen X review Road to PerditionRoad to Perdition explores the complex, vaguely troubling relationships between fathers and their sons against the backdrop of depression-era organized crime.

Males make dangerous bonds, reluctantly accepting their own dependency while searching for their own origins -- Every man is a boy first and every boy has at least two fathers: A real father, who may eat with his mouth open and stumble on occasion, and the dark father who has the power to make us all tremble. Even in our gentler, more sensitive age, there is little more terrifying than a dad nearing his boiling point, his veins blood red in his forehead.

The sound of a belt being snapped in a show of power still makes the hairs on many necks stand on end.

Perdition is about how one boy tries to bring these two fathers together, how he attempts to understand a father capable of heinous acts of violence and yet an almost embarrassing capacity for tenderness. Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) is a hit man for an Irish gang during the depression. Although a ruthless and efficient killer, Sullivan is also a family man with a wife and two young sons. Like most dads of his age, he returns from a hard day at work to a nice, middle-class house and a warm meal.

His eldest son, Michael (Tyler Hoechlin), idealizes and fears his father. Sullivan is mysterious and silent, a man who believes in loyalty, honor and hard work. His boys make up stories about him, writing their dad as a spy in the Secret Service and drawing a heavy connection between the hit man and the Lone Ranger.

However, it’s not quite Father Knows Best when dad’s a hired thug. When the small family attends a wake at Sullivan’s boss’ house, the boys begin to understand the world he lives in. Although every gangster in a suit wants to be called their uncle, and Sullivan’s blue-eyed boss John Rooney (Paul Newman) is mischievous and exciting, things start to go off track when the brother of the slain man begins ranting mysterious accusations and Sullivan escorts him out.

Rooney’s son Connor (Daniel Craig) and Sullivan decide to meet the grieving brother later to try to smooth things over, but things get out of hand. Worse still, young Michael Jr. has taken this day to tag along with his dad secretly, and must accept the idea that Pa is not really a hero, but rather a Tommy-gun-totting gangster.

When Michael asks if his mother knows what his father does for a living, the elder Sullivan says,  “Your mother knows I love Mr. Rooney. When we had nothing, he gave us a home.”

Although no one questions Sullivan’s loyalty to the mob family, Connor is uneasy about the gunman and takes this opportunity to send out a hit on him. Sullivan is like a son to Rooney and Connor is pathetically driven to be the sole apple in his dad’s eye. The plot complicates when Chicago mobsters are required to take sides in the quarrel and an arch hitman with a morbid interest in taking pictures of dead people is sent to track and kill Sullivan and Michael.

Based on a graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner and directed by American Beauty’s Sam Mendes, Perdition is stylish, clever and well-crafted. The acting is fine -- though Jennifer Jason Leigh is wasted in a bit part as Sullivan’s wife -- and the scenes are riveting. Like last year’s Gosford Park, Perdition suffers a little by being almost too artful, too sober, too ponderously concerned with its thematics.

Sullivan is less a character than an intense character study rendered in a moving portrait. Hanks is inaccessible, dark and sullen. He is intimidating in this role, a solid block of man, bulky and vaguely awesome. You don’t so much as look into the character as at him, marveling at his ability to keep his emotions in check. This opaque quality also makes him seem somehow inhuman, however, and his actions sometimes feel hard to justify or even understand.

Newman is luminescent and his performance is both robust and nuanced. Like a King Lear, Rooney is forced to compromise himself morally because of his love for his son. Fathers are responsible for their sons and sometimes this means accepting their sins as your own. “Sons are put on the Earth to trouble their fathers,” he says, sounding like a character from a Greek tragedy.

A dilettante executioner, Maguire (Jude Law) is the only character to feel as though he walked out of a comic book, a flesh and blood ghoul in the tradition of the Green Goblin and the Joker. Law is suitably creepy as a shutterbug assassin. Walking with a kind of insect grace, he is a strange mix of supernatural beauty and haunting ugliness.

Perdition is a very good film with a lot to recommend it, but I left feeling somehow unsatisfied. The relationships get tiresome and the plot is clunky at times, as though the allegory is too much for the storyline. The characters feel contrived -- especially when they search for meaning greater than themselves in this rather rote universe of gangster vengeance -- and despite the superb performances all around the film feels juvenile, the work of overeager teen-agers writing love poems in the margins of their science homework.

Perdition tries to be everything to everybody: A mobster film, a road trip movie, a coming of age story, a classic epic about masculine bonds. I don’t think the formula can support this level of meaning. It buckles under the pressure, reminding me of the way my poor Ford Festiva chugs when going up a steep hill.

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