Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

D: Jay Roach
S: Mike Myers, Elizabeth Hurley

Mike Myers offers more of his peculiar sense of postmodern humour in this spoof of sixties spy movies; not just James Bond, but the whole sub-genre that sprung up around espionage at that time and the culture of late sixties London as well. Swinging super-spy Austin Powers is cryogenically frozen in the 1960s when his arch nemesis Dr. Evil (Myers again) does likewise and launches himself into orbit, planning to return when the world is less open-minded. In the cynical, sexually inhibited 1990s, he does so. Powers is duly unfrozen to face him. Only glitch; now he's as anachronistic as his enemy.

A combination of straight spoof and the kind of time warp comedy done so well in The Brady Bunch Movie, Austin Powers is not consistently funny, but it is generally fun. You know where you're going fairly quickly, and when during Powers' 'defrosting' sequence, Myers repeats a gag from The Naked Gun (the urination scene) and pushes it even further. It is generally light and upbeat, and Myers is genuinely funny in the role of Dr. Evil (his attempted reconciliation with his test-tube grown son is a nice touch), but it won't win any points for originality.

Its sense of humour is as much a throwback to the period in question as the costumes, the soundtrack and the plot (think of the actual Bond spoof Casino Royale with a touch of Laugh-In). Myers offers his manic interpretation of character, but is never canny enough as Austin Powers to win genuine sympathy or to actually be cool for long enough to make him interesting as anything other than a live action cartoon. Elizabeth Hurley does well in support as a fellow covert operative who has some trouble understanding Powers' line in sexual innuendo. A number of familiar faces have small roles including Robert Wagner, Michael York, Carrie Fisher and Tom Arnold (Mimi Rogers has a slightly bigger part to play, and does it nicely).

It's all very energetic, punctuated by musical interludes and filled with broad, silly action, but the film has relatively little pace. It's mostly just one gag after another (from Myers' script), and while some of them work, your tolerance for the film on the whole will depend on just how much you enjoy the general hijinks. It doesn't really develop a steady rhythm or build to a suitably explosive climax. It simply follows the spy movie plot mechanics and tosses in random moments of additional weirdness (the group therapy session with Fisher is most odd, but quite funny). The film has its legions of admirers, but for most it is of only passing interest (if any) as a late nineties self referential pop culture pastiche. A good film for late-night gatherings of slightly intoxicated youths, but hardly a major contribution to world cinema (not that it was meant to be).

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.