Film and TV

It's Awful, Baby, Yeah!

There is, near the end of the spy-spoof sequel Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, a dick joke. It begins like many run-of-the-mill dick jokes, of which the rest of the film is almost entirely composed, but it blossoms into one stellar, protracted, deftly executed, masterful dick joke. It is sustained ten times longer than you'd think possible and does things that few dick jokes have ever done, plus it's got celebrity cameos.

In other words, it's funny. But unfortunately, nothing else is. Not another damn thing in this sequel comes even close to the frantic comedic pace set by the original--and if it ain't funny, what, then, is the point of an Austin Powers movie? Most of this freakishly dull mess fails to even raise a chuckle, and that's just simply not good enough to follow up one of the funniest films of this decade. It's unforgivable, actually, punishable by death--and the firing squad will start with mastermind/star Mike Myers, who, while playing up to four characters at a time, is clearly lying down on the job. Because, again, just so we're clear, The Spy Who Shagged Me is not funny. At all. It's funny like the color brown is funny. It's funny like some milk, or like a soft Tuesday-afternoon cloud. It's remarkably, surprisingly, groundbreakingly, life-shorteningly not funny. Except, of course, for that one dick joke.

In comedy, particularly with raunchy, self-conscious slapstick stuff, there's a wafer-thin line between "genius" and "total crap," and even those who successfully walk it, such as Jim Carrey and the Farrelly brothers, sometimes make stuff like Ace Ventura 2 and Kingpin. Myers, while more mainstream than mad-genius, has a talent for turning character-sketch comedy into wacky full-length fun, and the first Austin Powers, an ironic ode to the silliest stuff from spy films, had a certain special magic. Myers mixed James Bond, preschool humor and two uneasy, neurotic characters--Austin "Danger" Powers, mangy swingin'-Sixties Brit spy with bad teeth and Buddy Holly glasses, a cross between Bond and the Beatles and Emo Phillips who just oozes sex, and his insecure nemesis, Dr. Evil, who really just wants to be loved. And everything worked. It was irresistible. But if the comedic pitch of a film this over-the-top isn't just right, it turns out like, well, the sequel. Raising dick jokes and cheap visual gags to the level of true humor is, seriously, a rare artistic achievement, and from the opening moments of the film, we know this isn't it.

As if it matters. Dr. Evil (Myers, bald) plans to take over the world again, this time with a laser gun on the moon. He has the help of a clone of himself, only one-eighth his size (freaky bald midget Verne J. Troyer), the brooding teenage Scott Evil (the always-intense Seth Green), and an obese Scottish man named Fat Bastard (Mike Myers, smothered in latex, saying some of the lamest things he's ever said). In order to thwart Austin Powers (Myers, in a wig), Dr. Evil travels back in time and steals his enemy's "mojo," which turns out to be some red goo. Powers then travels back to the Sixties to retrieve his mojo, falls for CIA hottie Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham) and saves the world.

Right. It sounds better, weirder, more fun than the first one, but nobody--not Myers, not director Jay Roach, not co-writer Michael McCullers, not freaky bald midget Verne J. Troyer--puts in the effort. Every scene, every joke, every out-there concept falls gloriously flat, beginning with the opening number, a tedious, stupid expansion on a joke that got old in the first one (Austin, naked, with props conveniently covering up his genitals). The only tolerable moments are Dr. Evil moments. He's a brilliant character, a madman bent on ruling the world--but one who desperately needs to be accepted and loved. His doting relationship with the clone, which he names Mini-Me, captures that familiar, uncomfortable, and surreal Austin Powers vibe ("You complete me," he whispers to the mute midget. "I love you.") But since this is the only good thing in the film, save for a decent dick joke, it's overdone and then overdone some more.

Worst of all, Powers himself is like a good friend on some heavy prescriptions, a pale, bleary-eyed fool muttering nonsense that nobody seems to hear. Gone is the uncaged winking sexual charisma of Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery; welcome now the neutered Powers, who apparently takes himself seriously, who believes he is sexy, who wants to be on as many billboards as possible, loved and trusted by American consumers, with his matty hair and repeated catchphrases. (Pick one: a) "Oh, behave!" b) "Oh, behave!" c) "Oh, behave!") It's unbearable. Myers even looks to the audience a few times, as if he can't believe what he just said.

What went wrong? Can anyone really explain why Mel Brooks's Blazing Saddles, ripe with racial humor and fart jokes and bad puns, is a work of art, while Spaceballs just sucked? Does anyone know how, exactly, the Zucker brothers worked nonstop visual-gag genius in The Naked Gun and seemed to lose it all by Naked Gun 2 1/2? Or why the first Austin Powers worked and the sequel just plain doesn't? There's no real answer beyond it's just not right. The Burt Bacharach cameo in the original had just the ideal amount of camp and pizzazz, while here (with Elvis Costello), the scene is a plug for the album, dripping with earnest sweetness and smiles all around. Gag, cough, cough.

If you love Austin Powers, if you bought the video and watched it every day for a month (like I did), if that randy silly naive sexual predator from the swingin' Sixties feels like an old friend, if the simple thought of Dr. Evil stroking his hairless cat Mr. Bigglesworth makes you giggle, do yourself a favor: Don't see this movie. Every time you feel the urge to go, resist, stay home and watch the original again. All you're missing is a dick joke, and it's not worth all the pain.

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
Directed by Jay Roach. Written by Mike Myers and Michael McCullers. Starring Mike Myers, Heather Graham, Michael York, Rob Lowe, Mindy Sterling and Verne Troyer.

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Glenn Gaslin