Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
Directed by Jay Roach
Cast: Mike Myers, Heather Graham, Michael York, Mindy Sterling, Seth Green, Verne J. Troyer, Rob Lowe, Robert Wagner, Kristen Johnston, Will Ferrell, Gia Carides, Elizabeth Hurley, Clint Howard, Willie Nelson, Woody Harrelson, Tim Robbins, Jerry Springer.
1999 95 minutes
Rated: (for scatalogical, gross-out humor, profanity, and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, June 12, 1999.
When the original "Austin Powers" was released in 1997, it didn't make that great deal of an impression and was never really expected to, but it garnered many positive reviews, had low drop-off box-office rates each week, and became a pop-culture phenomenon once it hit video stores. Now we have "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," which will be sure to go down as one of the few sequels to do better financially than its predecessor (if the sold-out crowd I saw it with is any indication). The terms, "Yeah, baby, yeah!" and "let's shag, baby," have been ingrained in most moviegoers' minds due to the original, and when was the last time a movie created its own vernacular, and audiences followed?
Getting off to a brisk, but disappointing start, this film continues where the first left off, with Austin Powers (Mike Myers) and Vanessa Kensington (Elizabeth Hurley) on their romantic honeymoon. Within five minutes time, it is discovered that Vanessa was a dreaded fembot all along, a henchman of Dr Evil's (Myers). Realizing he's a single man again, Austin doesn't take too much time grieving before he learns that Dr. Evil has created a time machine, gone back to 1969 when Austin was cryogenically frozen, and stolen his "mojo." In hot pursuit, Austin time travels back to the swingin' '60s himself, meets up with beautiful and "randy" CIA agent Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham), and together they set out to get his "mojo" back. But that's not all, as Dr. Evil also is plotting to destroy Washington, D.C. if his demands (several billion dollars) aren't met.
"Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" has, thankfully, created the same atmosphere that the mildly successful first one set up. From the first frame to the last, it is apparent that we've stepped back into the world of Austin Powers, but that doesn't mean that the new movie is as good, and it isn't. For one thing, the whole prologue is a gigantic betrayal of both Austin Powers fans and Elizabeth Hurley. Making her turn out to be a fembot will, from now on, seriously put a damper on the way people watch the original, because now we know that she didn't even actually care about him at all, but was on the "evil side." It also creates a noticably large plot hole: If Vanessa Kensington was a fembot, then her mother, Mrs. Kensington (played by Mimi Rogers in the original), also had to have been, and this little fact is not dealt with at all in the uneven screenplay, by Mike Myers and Michael McCullers. If Hurley didn't want to appear for more than a brief cameo, the filmmakers surely could have thought of a stronger way for her to go out.
Just watching "Austin Powers" right before I saw its sequel, I noticed another downfall. While the first one was not hilarious, it was light, charming, and occasionally funny. In "The Spy Who Shagged Me," there might be some bigger laughs (the sure-to-be-classic "tent scene" comes to mind), but there are also just as many jokes that fall astoundingly flat, and others that are merely recycled. The film has opted for the "everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" approach, and in doing so, has forgotten about all of the returning characters who, in essence, are nothing more than extended cameos. Seth Green, as Dr. Evil's misunderstood son, Scott, comes close to breaking out into his own person (especially when he appears on a Jerry Springer episode, entitled "My Father is Evil and Wants to Take Over the World"), but there is no payoff. Robert Wagner, as another of Dr. Evil's henchmen, Number 2, has all of one scene, until Dr. Evil goes back in time and the role is taken over by the younger Rob Lowe (who does a killer impression of Wagner). Mindy Sterling has a few nice moments as assistant Frau Farbissina who, midway through, has a steamy affair with Dr. Evil, and later shares an uncomfortable moment with him by the coffee machine.
The new characters are a memorable, if underused, bunch. Taking over the romantic interest role from Hurley, Heather Graham is energetic and has proven to be a fine actress (see 1997's "Boogie Nights" or 1989's "Drugstore Cowboy" for proof), but here doesn't get to stretch her acting muscles, and her relationship with Austin feels a little more forced than that of Vanessa and he. The bright spot in the film is Mini Me (Verne J. Troyer), a clone of Dr. Evil, only 1/8 his size. Troyer is often hysterical and even cute, and his relationship with Dr. Evil is actually a sweet one. Going for a "Nutty Professor"/Eddie Murphy type of deal, Myers has given himself a third role, as Fat Bastard, a repugnant Scot who weighs a "metric ton" and, at one point, has a disgusting roll in the hay with one of the female characters. In the wasted department are the two femme fatales, Ivana Humpalot (Kristen Johnston) and Robin "maiden-name's-Spits" Swallows (Gia Carides), who show up, do their thang, and quickly disappear.
Of course, in the forefront of the whole operation is Mike Myers, who is comic dynamite and doesn't disappoint. Much of the joy that comes from watching Myers (whether it be as Austin or Wayne) is actually watching him. He clearly has a great love for performing, and especially for his Powers character, and his talent only shines through more when considering all of the different roles he plays here. You know going in that Dr. Evil is also played by Myers, but while watching him, it's easy to forget such a thing because of how utterly convincing he is.
With "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," what you see is what you get. There is certainly no deep meanings behind anything that occurs within the 95-minute running time, and it has a fast pace so your mind won't wander too much. The fact that a third "Austin Powers" movie will probably be coming out at this time in 2001 is a given, but after seeing his second adventure, you have to wonder how many times the same jokes can be played out before they start to overstay their welcome. Having Austin say "yeah, baby, yeah!" was amusing the first time around, but it isn't here. And judging from this not-bad, but lackluster first sequel, Myers should start brainstorming his ideas now for the next installment. A little bit of variety and originality may very well come in handy in the future.
©1999 by Dustin Putman