Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Austinpussy (from Austin Powers in Goldmember)
Directed by Jay Roach
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d blog about Goldmember in an academic setting, but sometimes the gods of bad cinema shine their light upon thee, and it’s all one can do to take advantage of this moment. There are very few shorts within a feature that seem like a non-sequitur to the rest of the film, but then again there are very few films that seem to be composed of a string of non-sequiturs itself. Austin Powers in Goldmember could be defined as so, a post-modern clusterfuck that sheds more insight into the way Hollywood perceives the general public’s notion of entertainment than the average big-budget abomination. The opening Austinpussy, without having relevance to the plot (which is flimsy at that,) actually instills the tone for the rest of the film, as the audience is treated to a movie within a movie for the first and not the last time throughout.
Grounding most of its action film parody in Mission Impossible 2-era John Woo, the film’s style is notably different than any from the previous episodes of the franchise. Helicopters explode, a high-speed chase ensues through the badlands, and Austin Powers skydives into action. Basically, this is not anything likely the comedic style of the first two films. However, it all makes sense when the main characters are revealed to be various mega-stars, such as Tom Cruise, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, and Danny Devito. Before the audience is able to grasp the situation, it’s revealed that it’s a clip from the Steven Spielberg directed Austinpussy, and the real movie begins.
These are the first images of the film, and they star none of the actors who dominate the next 90 minutes. This parody is more indebted to the previous films in the series than Interestingly enough, compared to The Larry Sanders Show or Tropic Thunder, the humor isn’t in how these Hollywood superstars lampoon themselves, but in how they satriize characters the audience is familiar with. Cruise doesn’t even attempt to affect a British accent, toothily smiling his way through a “yeah baby.” Paltrow, pre-Chris Martin’s daily inspiration, fills the role of vapid but dangerous femme fatale with the thinly-veiled double entendre of a name. Spacey laughably hams it up as Dr. Evil and Devito is short, so he makes a perfect fit as Mini-Me. As if the audience doesn’t know who these celebrities are, they add titles to a freeze-framed image of each. We laugh because we know who these people are, and they don't belong in an Austin Powers film.
Numerous reviews of the film commented that there was more quality comedy filmmaking in the opening parody than in the rest of the film. And they’re right— there’s something inspired in these three minutes of absurdity, as if the filmmakers themselves took a step back from joylessly force-feeding absurdist tripe, and enjoyed the scenario they present: a star-filled Austin Powers sequel that actually exceeds expectations. What does it say when the peak of a feature film is a short parody of said film? I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we might look more fondly on Goldmember if it just consisted of the aforementioned three minute short— then we wouldn’t have so many great Pepsi Twist and Beyonce musical numbers— but what it does call to question is the relationship between short and feature, one we’ve delved into numerous times this semester. Especially the idea that of importance attributed to each; if the feature is supposed to be what brings audiences in, why was the word of mouth revolving around the cameos in the opening short likely the inspiration to those on the fence about paying to see another Austin Powers film?
The final twist regarding their relationship is when at the end of the film, the main villain Goldmember, played by Mike Myers throughout, turns around and reveals himself to be played by John Travolta. We’re back to Austinpussy, and even the characters of the film are watching. Has the feature actually been within the short? WHY IS AN AUSTIN POWERS MOVIE SO COMPLEX?