Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)

D: Jay Roach
S: Mike Myers, Heather Graham

The sequel to Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery is an equally unremarkable succession of spoof gags and sexual innuendo which if it worked for you the first time will probably work again, but will not win the series any new fans and lacks the novelty value that the original had. Abandoning the conceit of the first film, which concentrated on time out of joint humour as cryogenically frozen sixties superspy Mike Myers ran amok in the 1990s, this outing is set mostly in 1969, where Powers has travelled back in time to thwart Dr. Evil's nefarious plan to steal his mojo (don't ask) and take over the world again.

As with the first one, the film has enough of a sense of its own stupidity to never let the audience down. It has an enormously high quotient of gutter-level sex jokes and spends a great deal of time daring us to take it seriously. It continually sends up not only the spy genre and the culture of late sixties London, but itself. It literally assaults the audience with gross and/or offensive characters and/or dialogue (Myers turns in a particularly revolting turn as an obese Scotsman called "Fat Bastard", but then, that's precisely the point) as if on some kind of mission to prove just how low you can go and still win the affection of the punters. It does this long past the point of tolerance, but if you pay to see a movie with this title, you expect nothing less. Myers does his best to ensure that young teenage boys will get a kick out of hearing many lewd suggestions, seeing an array of ersatz penises and ogling the rather beautiful Heather Graham as an American superspy who assists Austin in his 1960s quest (Elizabeth Hurley has a brief cameo at the beginning which cheerfully makes nonsense of the first film's romantic sub plot and resolution). There's not a whiff of serious intention here, and there is more than a touch of cynical exploitation, especially because as a character Austin Powers has never been particularly funny, and robbed of his out-of-time context, we're left only with a very silly caricature in a very silly setting which exists simply because it can, not because it is needed.

There are one or two good sight gags in there, but again Dr. Evil (also played by Myers) is the best thing about it. His continued troubled relationship with his disgruntled son is again the subject of most of the smiles, but really it's the same gag being repeated with some new variants (instead of going to therapy, they go on Jerry Springer, instead of the 'shhh' sequence there's a 'zip it' sequence). A new ingredient has been worked into the mix though in the form of diminutive Verne Troyer as a slightly fudged clone simply referred to as 'mini-me'. Troyer plays the part with gusto, and it is really a matter of personal taste as to whether or not you feel the actor is being exploited. He certainly seems to have fun doing it though, and he does get to beat the daylights out of Powers at one point by way of proving size matters not. Rob Lowe turns up playing the younger version of Robert Wagner's character (after his cameo in the first film), and there are some bits and pieces which do amuse. It's all very much aimed at an undiscerning viewer though, and the film is probably best appreciated with a group of easily entertained and slightly inebriated male friends. Those prone to offence (particularly females) will doubtless be offended, but that is precisely what Myers is hoping for, so there's not much point in protesting.

The most interesting thing about the film is the fact that its American release followed fast on the heels of The Phantom Menace, a prospect which so terrified most distributors that little else even attempted to compete with the Lucasfilm monster. The Irish release has been staggered by three weeks, but the trailer exhorting "If you go to see one movie this summer, make it The Phantom Menace, but if you go to two, make it Austin Powers...." did run. The film is most definitely an acquired taste, and it is certainly no improvement on its predecessor. Those who loved the first will love the second, but there is something quite sad and dispiriting about seeing a one-joke idea being stretched across not one, but two feature films when a short sketch on Saturday Night Live would probably have done all that needed to be done with it. The same problem plagued Wayne's World, but at least the characters were beguiling then, and after two movies, Myers knew it was time to move on. I have an awful feeling that we'll be seeing Austin Powers again, and it's not something I'd particularly look forward to.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1999.