Synopsis: Combine the swinging ’60s, spy movies, talented Mike Myers in dual roles and one hilariously well-paced champagne bottle and you get Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery. Say “Yeah, baby!” for laughs as Flower Power-ear superspy Austin (Myers) is thawed from a 30-year cryogenic freeze to stop the world-dominating scheme of bald baddie Dr. Evil (also Myers). Elizabeth Hurley, shagadelic style and Austin’s randy attempts to find ’60s-style free love in a very different, uptight time add to the groovy fun of this mad, mod, Myers world.
For approximately ten years after its release, I thought that ‘Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery’ was one of the funniest movies I’d ever seen (not “the”, but “one of”). My opinion didn’t even waver after the undeserved large-scale success of its sequel, an insult to the intelligence of not only cinema-goers, but the characters that had been crafted in the first outing.
While I still quite enjoy the original, I have to admit that it appears that my enthusiasm may have diminished somewhat.
Is it because I have been saturated with ‘Austin Powers 1’ over the years, having watched it countless times? Have I been influenced by my dislike of both sequels and its star, Michael Myers (whom I’ve otherwise never ever found funny )? Have my tastes changed over the years? Or is it simply that, perhaps, I just wasn’t in the right mood for it?
I suspect that it’s a combination of all of those, but the fact is that some films (ex: ‘Back to the Future’) stand the test of time. ‘Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery’ still succeeds well beyond many other films, making me burst out loud more often than all of Adam Sandler’s films combined, but I didn’t get carried away with it as much as I remembered.
In fact, some of the corniness fell somewhat flat with me this time around. Although Austin Powers, per se, is a corny guy from a different era, and, thus, is completely credible as a character, I didn’t find his unsophisticated one-liners disarming anymore. Thankfully, his overall almost-childlike naïveté was endearing enough to get through those moments; he is, after all, only a playful man-child with a raging libido – not a despicable jerk.
“Do I make you horny? Randy? Do I make you horny, baby, yeah, do I?”
Michael Myers created a terrific character in Powers. While I’ve enjoyed some of his characters before, I’ve never found their humour or the worlds they inhabited funny at all. Here, the character is the perfect vehicle for minor sociopolitical satire because he embodies all the outrageousness of a by-gone era, an era whose principles and values clash quite dramatically with the one that he’s thrown into.
Even Michael Myers’ villain, Dr. Evil, provides ample opportunities to comment on the ways of the world then and now: as he attempts to take over the world again, he discovers that it has changed considerably in thirty years and that his usual strategies no longer have the effect that they once did. It’s a large learning curve, thirty years, and both characters do their best to get by, with extremely mixed results – much to our delight.
“Shall we shag now, or shall we shag later?”
On top of its social commentary and satire, ‘APIMOM’ is chock full of pop culture references. It was perfect for someone such as myself, who is an ardent film and TV watcher, seeing as it was almost all rooted in ’60s entertainment – especially those with an espionage theme, such as James Bond, The Avengers and the like. There were even nods to romantic comedies of that era, and less obvious ones such as ‘Demolition Man’.
The music was excellent. It was mostly inspired by the original John Barry 007 themes, although I imagine there may have been other homages along the way (I noticed the Barry ones because I’ve long been a HUGE fan of his James Bond motion picture scores). Even the editing, the musical number during the opening credits – everything was rooted in some other pop reference, either as an homage or as satire. It’s quite extraordinary the amount ripping off being done to great effect.
There are also tons of terrific cameos peppered through the film:
–Seth Green plays Scott, Dr. Evil’s son. While he’d been on the scene for years, this was the first time I truly noticed him. He’s excellent at playing up ’90s teen angst and at giving his on-screen dad a few lessons in the modern world.
–Robert Wagner is always awesome. He has a star quality, a charisma, that is very rare. Why he wasn’t a bigger celebrity is beyond me, but I first saw him in ‘Hart to Hart’ and was immediately impressed with him. Here he plays Dr. Evil’s #2, his right-hand man, and he bring to it the credibility it deserves.
–Michael York imbues his character with a puppy dog eagerness that makes him delightful, if a little goofy – but it’s essential to explain why this guy would not only endure, but actually admire, Agent Austin Powers.
Heck, even Burt Bacharach comes in for a cameo. Fun! There may be more, but these are the ones that I recognize. There are a few performances that are also noteworthy, aside from the cameos, such as Mindy Sterling’s exceptionally funny turn as Frau Farbissina and Fabiana Udenio’s waxy but faux-sexy performance as Alotta Fagina.
Beyond Michael Myers’ Power and Evil character, Elizabeth Hurley is the next most important. She plays Mrs. Kensington’s daughter, now also a British Secret Service Agent. Unfortunately, Hurley is a non-actress and most of her scenes are spent posing instead of articulating, reacting instead of acting, being a model instead of an actress (which is sadly the truth).
“I think you’re shagedelic baby! You’re switched on! You’re smashing! You’re shagadelic, baby!”
She looks the part, but it hurts whenever anything is expected of her – she can’t deliver a credible line worth her life. I suppose it wasn’t crucial (it certainly seems like looks won out over talent here!), but it would have helped to have an excellent comedic actress play the part. Unfortunately, this type of casting choice would become a standard for each of Austin Powers’ leading ladies.
Even though this weakens the key pairing of the picture, ‘Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery’ remains an incredibly funny film. It covers many different genres of humour along the way, which is brilliant because it allows for a broader appeal. While it wasn’t a smash hit upon its release, it became quite the home video success – which explains why a sequel came soon on its heels.
If ‘Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery’ proves anything, it’s that box office success isn’t representative of quality: plenty of high grossing films are truly horrible films, much as there are plenty of mostly unseen masterpieces out there. This is one of the mysteries of human endeavour, and I doubt that this will change in the near future.
“Yeah, baby, yeah!”