We gave it a B
Dr. Evil’s first inspired moment in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me arrives early on, when he does a follow-up to his great, staccato ”Shhhh!” routine. Once again, he’s trying to shut up his son, the witheringly sarcastic, oh-so-’90s Scott (Seth Green). Looking like a very angry, very pale coconut, Dr. Evil glares at the young man and, in a bebop litany of commands, orders him, over and over again, to ”zip it.” (My favorite riff: He spits out Asian-movie gibberish and says, ”Subtitle: Zip it!”) The routine has the biting aggression that contemporary comedy thrives on, yet there’s another element that fuels Mike Myers’ performance — something I can only call joy.
Joy is Myers’ ruling spirit, and every so often, The Spy Who Shagged Me gooses you with it. It’s there in the opening-credits sequence, as Austin, his favorite organ hidden by an assortment of phallic delicacies, prances naked through a hotel to the chirpy cocktail-lounge strains of ”Soul Bossa Nova.” It’s there in the way that Dr. Evil melts at the sight of his newly hatched sidekick, a mutely stoic midget clone named Mini-Me (played by the 2-foot-8-inch Verne J. Troyer), or in the way that he takes a swig of malt liquor, pours some onto the floor, a la Tupac, and then says, ”That’s for my homeys.” There is, in fact, just enough joy in The Spy Who Shagged Me to make you wish there had been more of it. Myers and his collaborators, cowriter Michael McCullers and director Jay Roach, don’t do anything terribly wrong, yet the new movie, I’m afraid, is a mixed bag, baby.
The first Austin Powers became a new kind of phenomenon: a national cult megahit. Months ago, as I was wandering through a video store, I saw half a dozen people staring up at a TV monitor, idiot grins plastered on their faces, as they watched Austin vanquish the Fembots with his arse-thrusting, nipple-diddling dance to ”I Touch Myself.” I joined the gawkers, and was soon beaming idiotically too. It was obvious that we’d all seen the movie before (some of us more than once). Yet Myers’ shameless exuberance was addictive; you had to keep watching him. We live in an age when comedy lusts for the Extreme — for the banshee ferocity of Jim Carrey or Chris Tucker, the reptilian bawdiness of Howard Stern. Ultimately, though, all of these performers armor themselves with their rock-star cool. The glory of Myers as Austin Powers is that he was willing to be majestically uncool, transcendently embarrassing. What, in the end, could be more extreme than that
As a character, Austin Powers hasn’t worn out his welcome, exactly, but he has outlived his novelty. He’s so dazed and myopic that Myers doesn’t have much choice but to rehash the same bits (”Do I make you hawny?”), and the whole notion of spoofing/saluting paisley fashions, free love, and James Bond now plays like yesterday’s wild card. This time, Austin time-travels back to the swinging London of 1969, where he hooks up with the gorgeous, miniskirted CIA agent Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham) and tries to get back his mojo — the precious bodily essence that Dr. Evil has stolen. Myers, parading the same jelly belly, grotty teeth, and dirty carpet of chest hair, remains innocent in his very repulsiveness. His Austin is a twinkly-eyed ”swinger” who, with his horn-rims and crushed-velvet Carnaby Street suit, is actually the squarest guy around. He thinks the fact that he’s got a penis makes him sexy.
The Spy Who Shagged Me has a lot of penis jokes — too many. A few of the low routines are funny, like a verbal montage of male-member puns, and Austin and Felicity caught in deliriously obscene silhouette. The new character of Fat Bastard, a corpulent, foul-tempered Scottish grotesque (also played by Myers), just makes disgusting bathroom humor seem…disgusting. Myers’ real triumph is what he does with Dr. Evil. In the first film, the character’s fey, cultured drone and pinky-nibbling theatrics (which conceal his utter incompetence) just made him seem like Ernst Stavro Blofeld with a frontal lobe missing, but in The Spy Who Shagged Me he goes further. He raps, he shows up on Jerry Springer, he has a skittish interoffice affair with Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling), he speaks in a demented garble of crossed-era pop references. It’s a Dr. Evil vaudeville show. As for Heather Graham, she certainly looks good enough to shag in her ’60s duds, but the movie, oddly enough, never quite finds a place for her lollipop lusciousness. It’s as if someone had told her to behave, and she listened. B