movie review by
Austin Powers is a great concept. Spawned from the fertile imagination of Mike Myers, Austin Powers is so blissfully assured of his own "shagability" that he never realizes how dorky he really is. He's so confident of his charm and he's so wantonly brash that you have to admire him and root for him to succeed.
But in spite of the great concept, the new Austin Powers movie--Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me--is a letdown. As compelling as the concept might be, part of the problem with the movie can be traced back to the concept itself: whereas exposition frequently becomes a burden for most movies, exposition is the raison d'etre for Austin Powers. Plot was secondary in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery; most of the laughs simply came from the collisions between Austin's swinging 1960s-bred expectations and the painfully unhip realities of the 1990s. After International Man of Mystery, however, most of the exposition has been handled. We know who Austin Powers is and we know where he's from. In other words, the movie doesn't have a lot of surprises left to tell the audience. As a result, many of the jokes from the first movie simply get retreaded. During the opening credits, for example, we get a protracted example of the same scene from International Man of Mystery where Powers pranced buck naked around his hotel room while various objects obscured his "naughty bits" from the camera. Nothing in the new scene scores as highly as when Elizabeth Hurley bit into a sausage in International Man of Mystery or when Austin passed her a pair of melons. Now the props are bigger but not the laughs. Later in the movie, Myers provides a twist on this same gag when Austin's silhouette is cast against the side of a tent. As CIA agent Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham) pulls items from a duffel bag, the silhouette looks as if she is pulling the items (an umbrella, a rope, etc.) out of Austin's ass. A group of soldiers watches in disbelief and groans in horror as each object emerges. It's a funny, unexpected twist on the same old gag.
Speaking of the wonderfully named Felicity Shagwell, Heather Graham doesn't match up to Elizabeth Hurley's Vanessa Kensington. Whereas Hurley was given a character to play (not a complex character but a character nonetheless), Graham is just a smile and a very hot pair of hot pants. Graham is undoubtedly a much more accomplished actress than Hurley, but her role gives her very little material to work with. She becomes little more than a walking Barbie Doll. Hurley does make a cameo appearance as Austin's newlywed wife, but she only appears so they can then get rid of her entirely.
Many of the best moments in the movie don't involve Austin at all. Dr. Evil, for example, almost steals the movie. In one of the movie's best scenes, Dr. Evil's son, Scott (Seth Green), appears on the Jerry Springer Show during an episode entitled "My father's evil and wants to take over the world." Springer brings on Dr. Evil as a surprise guest ("You're just not evil enough," Dr. Evil tells his son) and soon afterwards, you guessed it, the Evil's begin trading punches with another family. Other highlights include Dr. Evil's new creation, a mini version of himself, Mini-Me (Verne J. Troyer), created to replace his non-evil son. In one of the movie's funniest sequences, Dr. Evil and Mini-Me sing a rap duet, "Just the Two of Us."
Unfortunately, much of this movie falls flat. In particular, an obscenely fat man, Fat Bastard (played by Mike Myers underneath several pounds of latex makeup), never becomes anything more than simply grotesque. However, we must endure this character for several scenes.
During the screening I attended, the movie failed to get a single sustained belly laugh from the audience. But at the same time, people applauded after the movie ended. That's a strange sort of reaction--a comedy that elicits only sporadic laughter but the audience likes it anyway. I suppose that says something about the audience's faith in the Austin Powers concept. Once again, it's a great concept. But I suspect Austin Powers should have remained a one-shot comedy.
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me doesn't contain anything as inspired as the fembots in International Man of Mystery. But like a successful skit on Saturday Night Live, the same characters and the same jokes get thrown into the hopper again. Unfortunately, most of Myers' imagination apparently went into naming the new female character. Much of the rest of the movie feels like an afterthought.