The Spy Who Shagged Me
1999. Rated PG-13. 99 minutes.
Cast: Mike Myers, Heather Graham,
Michael York, Robert Wagner, Rob Lowe, Seth Green, Mindy Sterling,
Verne Troyer, Kristen Johnson, Gia Carides. Cameos by Elizabeth Hurley,
Burt Bacharach, Elvis Costello, Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, Willie
Nelson, Tim Robbins, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Jerry Springer.
|Grade: C||Review by Carlo Cavagna|
ustin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, the most anticipated 1999 summer release after Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, is just as disappointing. The original Austin Powers movie, International Man of Mystery, was a reasonably satisfying light comedy, but The Spy Who Shagged Me falls short of even that standard. Admittedly, the fact that most of us have already seen all the best gags in the previews diminishes their impact when we finally see them in the context of the film. Even allowing for that, The Spy Who Shagged Me is only sporadically funny, and it suffers from most of the problems that typically burden sequels, including recycled ideas and a weaker plot.
In the original movie, Austin Powers (Mike Myers) is a caricature of film super-spies from a specific time period (the Sixties) who arrives in the Nineties and finds himself an outsider. The comedy comes from Austin Powers trying to fit in and win over Elizabeth Hurley. Austin Powers is used to being hip and cool, and he just doesn't get that he's hip and cool no longer. We laugh at not just his funny looks and behavior, but at the absurdity of his looks and behavior in a present-day setting.
In The Spy Who Shagged Me, Austin Powers is an outsider no longer. He doesn't have to work to fit in, and he has everything handed to him. Myers relies almost exclusively on Austin Powers' odd appearance and trademark catch-frases ("Yeah, bay-bee, YEAH!"; "Oh, be-have!") to generate laughs. Sure, Austin Powers is still plenty funny-looking, but he's basically a one-joke character. Because this is a sequel, he's not even a fresh one-joke character anymore. He's just an annoying guy mugging for the camera for two hours.
Similarly, Elizabeth Hurley was much better in the first movie than Heather Graham is in the sequel. This is puzzling, as Graham is purportedly an actress and Hurley "just" a model. Hurley (who makes a cameo appearance in the sequel) had more attitude and screen presence, whereas Graham spends most of her time giggling and throwing herself at Austin Powers. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it traditional in this genre for the hero to have to work a bit to get the girl? Myers got this right in the original Austin Powers, but in The Spy Who Shagged Me, there's no tension between the hero and the heroine. The outcome--that they will be together--is never in doubt.
The Big Picture
Myers takes many of the gags from International Man of Mystery and repackages them in The Spy Who Shagged Me. Here's an example: One of the best scenes in International Man of Mystery was at the end, when a naked Elizabeth Hurley walks around a hotel room as various bizarre objects are thrust in front of her so that her breasts are never exposed to the viewers. Myers opens The Spy Who Shagged Me in the same vein, except that this time it's Austin Powers who's naked, romping around a hotel while the movie's credits and assorted objects hide his privates, until finally he winds up in a pink swimsuit, participating in a synchronized swimming routine. The sequence contains some mildy amusing sight gags, but it's not new, and it contributes nothing to Austin Powers' character. In International Man of Mystery, the Austin Powers dance routine during the opening credits helps to establish his character, as he is frolicking in his natural context--the late Sixties.
The parodies of early James Bond movies are reasonably funny, just as they were in the first Austin Powers, but there's nothing fresh about them either. Casino Royale did just as good a job of parodying Bond nearly 30 years ago. As for the verbal humor, there is too much reliance on juvenile scatological jokes. With the repulsively obese Fat Bastard character (also Mike Myers), Myers sinks to a new nadir of gross-out humor. In a recent interview, Myers defended Fat Bastard, explaining that he makes no distinction between high-brow and low-brow humor because (paraphrasing from memory), "What's funny is funny." Guess what, Mike? The inverse is also true--what's not funny is not funny.
The Spy Who Shagged Me is partially redeemed by the presence of Dr. Evil (Myers yet again), who was also the best thing about International Man of Mystery. In the case of Dr. Evil, Myers doesn't just rely on the way he looks; he constantly inserts Dr. Evil into absurd situations, one of the best of which is an appearance on The Jerry Springer Show with his teen-aged son, Scott Evil (Seth Green). Just the idea of Dr. Evil, a parody of a Ernst Blofeld from the Sean Connery-era James Bond films, trying to cope with everyday situations or communicate with his hostile son should be enough to make anyone smile. As usual, Dr. Evil longs for a loving relationship with his son, but is frustrated that his son is not "sufficiently ee-vil." As a surrogate, the son he longs for but doesn't have, Dr. Evil creates a miniature version of himself and calls him Mini-Me (two foot, nine-inch actor Verne Troyer)--a far more successful character than Fat Bastard.
Too many names in a film's writing credits is often a sign of an uneven, crowd-pleasing movie with an uninspired script. The Spy Who Shagged Me is an example of what can happen when there aren't enough screenwriters. You would think that at some point someone might have had the courage to pull Myers aside and say, "Hey, Mike, don't take this the wrong way, but that Fat Bastard character is really awful. And while you're at it, you might want to try telling a story instead of compiling a series of skits." If anybody spoke up, Myers didn't listen. The Spy Who Shagged Me is worth renting on video because it is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, but it's certainly not worth spending eight bucks to see it in a movie theater.
Review © June 1999
by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 1999 New Line Cinema Productions, Inc.