It's Awful, Baby, Yeah!
A fine line divides inspired silliness from out-and-out witlessness; it's a short leap from grin to groan. In 1997's Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Mike Myers took a thin premise -- spoof the '60s by transplanting a horny Matt Helm-like secret agent into the '90s -- and danced an unsteady watusi along that line. Sure, the original was little more than an extended Saturday Night Live sketch filled with bathroom humor and adolescent double entendre, but at least the gags were plentiful. If only one in three were actually funny and the rest merely insipid, that was enough to make the first Austin Powers charming... in a silly, innocuous way.
If only Myers had left it at that. The sequel, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, kills whatever charm the first movie had by recycling its few serviceable parts (the title sequence reprises the hide-the-naughty-bits gag featured twice in the original) and filling the other 85 or so minutes with a dreary series of celebrity cameos (Tim Robbins as the President?!), product plugs (Virgin Megastore, Philips Electronics), dick jokes, and extended explorations of the humorous side of the bowel. In interviews, Myers has said he was surprised that so many people got the laughs in the first Austin Powers, with its insider references to forgettable '60s spy flicks. (Anyone seen In Like Flint lately?) Yeah, well, we got it the first time, Mike, and it wasn't that funny then. What else you got?
The answer is, not much. The plot this time around essentially duplicates International Man of Mystery. Austin's nemesis, Dr. Evil -- also played by Myers -- creates a time machine that allows him to travel back to 1969 to steal the frozen Austin's mojo, the mysterious force that drives his libido. A flaccid 1999 Austin follows Dr. Evil in his own time machine -- a psychedelically painted VW Beetle -- to get back his mojo and stop Dr. Evil's plan to hold the world hostage with a giant, moon-based laser. Created by physicist Alan Parsons, the laser is called -- you guessed it -- the Alan Parsons Project.
Of course, the story hardly matters in an Austin Powers movie. Neither do the supporting actors, except to provide the bodies to which Myers attaches goofy names (Ivana Humpalot, Robin Spitz-Swallows) or to feed Myers' characters the straight lines that allow him to respond with some variation on "Yeah, baby, yeah!" Heather Graham (Boogie Nights, Lost in Space) plays Austin's sidekick and love interest, CIA agent Felicity Shagwell. The role demands only that she look good in a miniskirt and feign putting things into, and pulling them out of, Austin's rectum. In one interminable gag, she appears to draw a series of objects -- a knotted rope, an umbrella, a can of sleeping gas, even a gerbil -- from his interior. You wait for her to pull out the script for Austin Powers 3. Instead, she finds... a bottle of Heineken.
That's one of two plugs for Heineken in the movie. The other actually lifts the "Don't touch my Heinie" tagline from a beer commercial featuring Myers that began airing well before the movie's release. Which came first: the script for the movie or the commercial? It hardly matters. Looking for product placements gives the audience something to do in the long, stony stretches between laughs. No one stole Myers' comic mojo. He sold it.
And the Heineken plug is hardly the most blatant. That's a tossup between Starbucks -- the coffee company that Dr. Evil runs in the 1990s -- and Chili's. At one point, Fat Bastard, Dr. Evil's 500-pound Scottish henchman (played by Myers in a grotesque fat suit), brags that he once ate a baby -- "the other other white meat." That leads (don't ask how) to a scene in which Fat Bastard sings the entire Chili's babyback rib jingle. In 1969. Myers seems to think that using product placement as a punch line makes it OK to sell out -- something, no doubt, to do with laughing all the way to the bank.
The baby on the menu is Mini-Me, Dr. Evil's miniature clone (one-eighth the size, all the evil) played by the two-foot-eight-inch-tall Verne Troyer. Watching Troyer mimic Dr. Evil's every gesture or Dr. Evil coo over Mini-Me as though he were a Yorkshire terrier puppy provides two -- and only two -- of Shagged Me's handful of laughs. Unfortunately, Myers tries to milk the gag for several dozen. How many times will you chuckle at the sight of a midget flipping a diminutive middle finger? If your answer is more than five, this movie is for you.
This sequel falls way below the fairly low standard set by the first Austin Powers. What's new here is thinner, more predictable, and far coarser than the first film. (In one scene Austin winds up drinking from a coffee cup filled with diarrhea -- seriously, you can stop laughing now -- then leaves his upper lip covered in the liquid brown.) The rest is lifted wholesale from the previous movie; if you liked a gag from the first movie, don't worry, because it shows up four more times in this one.
Seth Green makes a particularly grim return as Dr. Evil's troubled teen son, Scott Evil. (Daddy doesn't love him because Scott is "the margarine of evil... the Diet Coke of evil. Just one calorie, not quite evil enough.") Except for a briefly funny opening sequence in which father and son appear on The Jerry Springer Show (and how 1997 is that?), Scott spends the rest of the movie sneering at Dad, calling him an "ass" and an "idiot." And he doesn't look as though he's kidding, either; he spits the words at him. Is that Scott talking to Dr. Evil, or Green speaking to Myers? Either Green is a very good actor, or he isn't acting.
Elizabeth Hurley (conveniently excised from the movie during its opening sequence), Robert Wagner, Michael York, Will Ferrell, and Mindy Sterling also reprise their roles from International Man of Mystery -- same actors, same jokes. Even Burt Bacharach is back for a musical number with Elvis Costello, who evidently got the gig because he provided the model for Austin's teeth. Willie Nelson and Woody Harrelson also appear as the punch lines to an extended dick joke -- pardon the pun -- that's repeated twice.
The movie ends with Dr. Evil promising to return and "get" Austin Powers, and an unhappier ending is hard to imagine. Fact is, Shagged Me runs almost two hours and feels twice as long; imagine Schindler's List, just not as funny. At last week's screening, a boy of about eight, who should at least have appreciated the bathroom humor, asked, "Is it over yet?" a good ten minutes before the final credits.
Let's see. The first Austin Powers cost $16 million and grossed $54 million in theaters. The second cost a reported $30 million and probably has already made close to that from product tie-ins. Don't get your hopes up, kid.
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
Directed by Jay Roach. Written by Mike Myers and Michael McCullers. Starring Myers, Heather Graham, Michael York, Rob Lowe, Mindy Sterling, and Verne Troyer.
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