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Elizabeth Hurley is 'Austin Powers'' biggest loss

Heather Graham is good, says Lisa Schwarzbaum, but Liz is the true international woman of mystery

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Elizabeth Hurley is ‘Austin Powers” biggest loss

Like so many modern women, Elizabeth Hurley leads a hyphenated life. As a model she poses for Estee Lauder cosmetic ads. As a girlfriend, she poses for paparazzi photos with longtime beau Hugh Grant. As a walking clothes hanger for Versace, she poses in frocks a body should require a license to wear. (Even with her attention-getting au natural armpits, poor Julia Roberts was quite upstaged by her costar’s provocatively dressed companion at the London premiere of ”Notting Hill.”) As an actress, this model-girlfriend-clothes horse poses as… Elizabeth Hurley.

I’ve always thought of Hurley as not so much an actress, really, as a hologram of one: She imitates the expressions of humans and approximates the glamour of celebrities, but I’d never been convinced there’s any human emotions behind her moves. (Even her relationship with Grant, as she has described it, feels more like a business pact than a love match.) I had gotten used to dismissing her as a phenom of ambition and publicity, when Hurley bagged the role of her career as Vanessa Kensington in ”Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.” And — aroused no doubt by Austin’s shagalicious mojo — she unleashed a vavoomy playfulness that displayed a wicked sense of humor as well as a calculated love of cleavage.

Liz gets the joke! Liz knows she’s all about necklines down to THERE and skirts slit up to HERE and that it’s all a persona, baby! In ”Austin Powers,” you know that Liz knows that you know that Liz has seen plenty of Austins in her day. And whether or not she has behaved with them or not, we’ll just have to guess. Meanwhile, we’re invited to watch her purr and have a giggle.

There is, of course, a new fetching babe in ”Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.” Luscious armload Heather Graham plays CIA agent Felicity Shagwell, and she looks ultra-groovy in crocheted minidresses. Graham brings pepperminty smiles and a very modern, sock-it-to-me healthy appreciation of sex to the role (Austin has met his bedroom match). She’s fresh and dewy and delightful.

And she makes me appreciate the faux-dirty tartitude of Elizabeth Hurley all the more. Heather’s a great girl. But Liz — ah, Liz is an international woman of mystery.

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