Austin Powers is spent.

If Mike Myers stops here and ends the Austin Powers "saga" as a trilogy, he can avoid the fate of another franchise that should have left well enough alone: Beverly Hills Cop, which, by its third go-around in 1994, had fizzled. It seemed that nothing could stop Eddie Murphy through most of the '80s. But, in 1989, he hit a snag -- Harlem Nights -- and then spent much of the '90s trying to be relevant again, desperately reinventing himself along the way. My advice to Mike Myers: Quit while you're ahead and reinvent yourself now while everyone wants to see what's next.

Austin Powers In Goldmember has a plot somewhere: Austin has nabbed Dr. Evil (both roles are played by Myers, if for some reason you are reading this without knowing anything about the Austin Powers movies), but he must travel back to 1975 to retrieve his kidnapped father, Nigel (Michael Caine), from the clutches of the crazed Dutch super-villain appropriately named Goldmember. (His genitalia were destroyed in a smelting accident and replaced with a set made of pure gold! Evil laugh: bwahahahahahaha!) There is more plot, involving destroying the world, but it's not very significant, since it is just a clothesline on which to hang one potty joke after another and give Austin opportunities to say "Yeah, baby! Behaaave!" and flex his "mojo." This time around, however, Austin is teamed with Foxxy Cleopatra (Beyoncé Knowles of Destiny's Child), an old flame he finds back in the disco-drenched days of 1975. Together, they groove their way back to the future to Dr. Evil's newest lair to stop the world's destruction and save Nigel, Britain's most respected spy. The new lair, incidentally, is an amusing submarine shaped like Dr. Evil, complete with pinky finger upturned to the side of its mouth. (Guess where the missiles are launched from!) Also along the way is a subplot related to the mysterious origins of both Austin and Dr. Evil, complete with flashbacks to Austin's early academy days, where he and Evil were roommates (hence the same age, I guess). By the end, each of the major characters undergoes an unpredictable change (one of which involves the return of Mini-Me, played by Verne Troyer), and the estranged Nigel and Austin are reconciled.

This movie is such a disappointment. Now, granted, I think that Austin Powers himself is one of the most annoying movie characters this side of JarJar Binks, so I am biased. Still, I have enjoyed these movies based not on Austin and his mojo but on the parodied spy world he lives in and on the supporting players, particularly Dr. Evil. In the first Austin Powers film, Dr. Evil was a rather clever amalgamation of the James Bond villains -- bald, jumpsuited, scarred, cat-petting, weird. His forays into silliness were a means by which to laugh at the juxtaposition: Dr. Evil as relic from the past, as concerned and out-of-touch father, as inept villain. Now, Dr. Evil is only a parody of himself -- a collection of ticks and quirks that come not from the Bond films but as repetitions of themselves. The treatment of the character is now infuriatingly self-aware and smugly self-amused, and the comedy comes not from inspired satire but from making fun of itself. Why the character Goldmember fails (again, Myers) is long and complicated, but, in short, he is not funny, only weird, and the target of the parody is unclear.

The addition of the classy good sport Michael Caine could have been a saving grace, but he is UTTERLY wasted here. He disappears midway through the film only to return in the last act to tie loose ends into unsatisfying knots. Maybe the writers thought that merely casting Caine was funny enough. It isn't. He has no truly great lines, and his considerable comic talents are wasted by his all-too-brief appearances in the film.

The only real source of reliable laughter in this latest outing comes from Mini-Me. Unlike the talking pug in Men In Black II, Mini-Me is a minor character whose screen time is upped and all the better for it. He is given more to do here, and the best laughs tend to come when he is onscreen. Unfunny, however, is the introduction of Fred Savage (from TV's The Wonder Years) as the Mole. Poor Savage relies on only one joke to justify his several minutes onscreen, and it isn't a funny joke. Another waste is the beautiful Knowles, whose one-joke presence as a blaxploitation diva/fox never rises to the promise of her talent and never gets proper mileage out of the considerably absurd genre she represents. The joke is done once we've seen her and heard her name.

Unscrupulous movie-spoiling friends may want to ruin the secrets of this movie -- and they all have to do with jaw-droppingly hilarious cameos -- almost all of which are spent in the first 10 minutes. (If the writers knew what was good for them, they would have saved the best for last rather than let the movie grow progressively less funny as it went along.) If you must see this movie, do it fast so you can see this segment unspoiled. Everyone else, rent the 1979 Roger Moore/James Bond space film Moonraker. It's funnier.

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