"Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me"

Dr. Evil and gang party like it's 1969.

Published June 11, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

It's going to seem churlish to suggest that a movie that's as much fun as "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" would be immeasurably improved by
actually having some semblance of a plot, so let's get the carping out of
the way right off. Like its predecessor, "Austin Powers: International Man
of Mystery,"
"The Spy Who Shagged Me" is really just a bouquet of gags, and
no matter how well each one is executed (and there are more than a few I'd
characterize as brilliant), the bunch of them make for an awkward jumble.
If only the story were a little better organized, the gags would stand out
even more starkly, like a meticulously cut jewel in a simple setting
instead of a lumpy, haphazard one. You might feel as if you were flying through the movie instead of simply hopscotch-jumping from joke to joke.

But given the choice between a movie that's better structured and only half
as funny, I'd take "The Spy Who Shagged Me" (or its predecessor, for that
matter) any day. The story is dismissible in a few swift strokes: Dr. Evil
is back, along with a pint-sized clone of himself whom he affectionately
calls Mini-Me, and he's got a plan to take over the world that involves
laser technology and some other stuff. Austin Powers and his new sidekick,
the deliciously named Felicity Shagwell, set out to stop him. But Powers is
feeling like less of a man these days: His mojo -- that is to say his, ahem, manly essence -- has been stolen by Fat Bastard, an obese, cranky
Scotsman who, at Dr. Evil's bidding, has traveled back in time to tap into Powers' cryogenic cell circa 1969 and suck it out (it's a psychedelic-hued
goo-like substance) with a syringe.

"The Spy Who Shagged Me" is something of a feat of derring-do, not because
it's good but because Mike Myers (who plays three roles here, those of
Powers, Dr. Evil and, in a fat suit designed by special effects whiz Stan
Winston, the nasty Fat Bastard) miraculously keeps the whole show running practically by himself. Powers' character is an odd collection of effects:
the too-broad disingenuous grin, the toupee-like mop of hair, the absurdly furry chest. By this time, it's all become so iconic that it really
shouldn't be funny anymore.

So why is it? If anything, Myers' Powers seems even more hysterical this time around, even though by now we've already digested all of the
character's specific visual jokes and catch phrases. But Myers still hasn't
worn out the essential joke of Powers. When he goes back to his pad with a curvy, Amazonian fashion model and spy (named Ivana Humpalot -- played by
Kristen Johnson) and commences foreplay with her in the form of a game of chess, he makes even the small, stupid bits work, sucking hungrily on the
nipple-like pawn and then popping it out between his lips with a lascivious
leer. Powers has a kind of mischievous joie de vivre that stops just short of being annoying, and it more than offsets his untamed libido (not to
mention those delightfully horrible teeth).

In fact, Powers is so appealing here that it's a shame he cedes so much
screen time to Dr. Evil. Dr. Evil has his moments. (At one point he reveals
one of his grand, heinous master plans, named after the Cambridge scientist
who developed the technology: "The Alan Parsons Project.") And the gags
come rolling along so steadily that there's never much lag time between
laughs. But a little of Dr. Evil goes a long way. And "The Spy Who Shagged
Me" is loaded with potentially wonderful supporting players who seem sadly
underused -- among them Seth Green, reprising his role as the terminally
confused Scott Evil; Michael York as Basil Exposition, the
dry-as-Beefeaters head of British Intelligence; and Rob Lowe in a hilarious
turn as the "young" No. 2 (his imitation of the mannerisms of the
"old" No. 2, played by Robert Wagner, is impeccable).

The interplay between Dr. Evil and his diminutive clone -- played with
nasty, silent wit by Verne Troyer, with a waxy bald Dr. Evil pate and
wearing a shrunk-down Dr. Evil outfit -- would have been marvelously funny
in smaller doses. As it is, though, the near ubiquitousness of Dr. Evil
drains precious time away from Powers and his love interest, played by the
lushly appealing Heather Graham. Graham is the same kind of good-sport
actress Elizabeth Hurley proved to be in "Austin Powers: International
Man of Mystery." She's eternally randy, but never trashy, uttering the most
ridiculous lines with a roll of her round baby-blue eyes, letting you know
that she's just tickled to be in on the fun. Graham has been astonishing in
more serious roles, in movies like "Drugstore Cowboy" and last year's "Two
Girls and a Guy,"
but there's something wonderfully freeing about seeing
her cut loose here. And she wears the clothes beautifully, making you
forget that generally speaking, crocheted minidresses are really just a
euphemism for "mistake." She carries off a particularly holey number with
an unusual amount of grace and charm -- a little like Grace Kelly crossed
with Barbarella.

Graham and Myers are so goofy and natural together, it's a shame they don't
have more time to gambol and flirt. What's more, "The Spy Who Shagged Me"
is burdened by a little too much toilet humor (which I love as much as the
next guy, but it seems excessive and out of place when there are so many
opportunities for simple, silly time-warp and shagging jokes). But the
movie's unabashedly brilliant moments -- there's a skillfully edited
sequence that uses every synonym you can think of for the word "penis," and
a few you've probably forgotten -- make up for at least some of the truly
throwaway humor. And it's always a delight to look at, done up in paint-box
colors, with countless aural and visual cues borrowed from Bond films and
their lesser imitators (including a volcano base for Dr. Evil that's a
direct nod to "You Only Live Twice"). In fact, the movie's visual jokes
outshine its verbal ones: The film is loaded with sight gags, including a
particularly outrageous one that takes place in a backlit camping tent. (To
even begin to describe it would only give it away.)

There's lots to look at in "The Spy Who Shagged Me" -- a daydreamy
re-creation of London's Carnaby Street circa 1969; Powers' Union Jack
"Shaguar" zipping along country roads. But no matter how striking these
visuals are, none of them are enough to make you ever forget the enchanted
forest of fur that thrives on Austin Powers' chest. That, I'm afraid, is an
image for the ages.

By Stephanie Zacharek

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

MORE FROM Stephanie Zacharek

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