Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Screenplay : Mike Myers
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1997
Stars : Mike Myers (Austin Powers / Dr. Evil), Elizabeth Hurley (Vanessa Kensington), Michael York (Basil Exposition), Robert Wagner (Number Two), Seth Green (Scott Evil), Fabiana Udenio (Alotta Fagina), Mimi Rogers (Mrs. Kensington), Mindy Sterling (Frau Farbissina)
Who hasn't looked at a ten-year-old picture of himself and cringed at the sight? Those terrible clothes, that ridiculous haircut. What was I thinking? you ask yourself. How could it have possibly been socially responsible to go out into public looking like that?
This phenomenon is the central joke of "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery," a hilarious spoof of James Bond movies and the Swinging London scene of the late sixties. The title character, played by "Saturday Night Live" alum Mike Myers, is a throwback to a very different time, when promiscuous, unsafe sex was okay, crushed velvet suits were high style, and, as one character blithely puts it, you could have bad teeth and still be a sex symbol.
Bad teeth is just one of Austin Powers' traits that clashes with modern style and social constructs. His entire demeanor and way of holding himself screams of thirty years ago, a time many people would like to forget. His innocuous use of the word "baby" in reference to every woman he comes into contact with, his goofy black-rimmed glasses, and his insatiable urge to "shag" with anyone willing are exaggerated tell-tale signs of an era long since wiped out by Watergate, the international drug wars, and AIDS. Austin Powers is still happily waging the Sexual Revolution, unaware that it has long since blown up in our faces.
In the late sixties, Austin Powers has himself cyrogenically frozen. Thirty years later, he is thawed out by the British government to pursue his arch nemesis, Dr. Evil (also played by Myers). Once defrosted, Powers teams up with Vanessa Kensington (Elizabeth Hurley), the daughter of his ex-partner, Mrs. Kensington (Mimi Rogers). Vanessa is a prim, proper, politically correct creation of the nineties, who obviously clashes with Powers' backward sexual antics.
Like Myers' "SNL" alter egos (including Wayne Campbell of "Wayne's World," Dieter, the bizarre German dance host of "Sprockets," and Linda Richmond, the Barbara Streisand-loving host of "Coffee Talk") Austin Powers is a complete package, both physically and emotionally. Myers is always best when he's assuming an exaggerated persona; he never seems to work very well as regular guy. He has too much energy and creativity to be normal. Like Wayne, Myers' most famous character, Powers is immanently likable because he's so unassuming. He's like a time capsule walking around, completely unphased that he stands out like a sore thumb.
However, some of the biggest laughs in the movie don't come from Powers, but from his enemies. As the head bad guy, Dr. Evil is a perfect amalgam of all James Bond's enemies (although he most closely resembles the infamous Goldfinger). The diabolic plans of Dr. Evil, who has also been cyrogenically frozen for the last thirty years, don't seem so threatening in the nineties (one of them involves making it look like Prince Charles has been cheating on Diana -- Good heavens!!). Then, when he does come up with a plan to extort money from the United Nations, he asks for the whopping sum of . . . one million dollars! Apparently, he doesn't know that actors like Jim Carry are pulling down $20 million for one movie.
Of course, what's a sinister bad guy without his crony henchmen? Here again, Myers makes quick work of Bond's most famous enemies, including Pussy Galore and Odd Job (reincarnated here as the Italian seductress Alotta Fagina and Random Task, who throws shoes instead of hats). And then there's Dr. Evil's son, Scott (Seth Green), who is angry at his father for suddenly stepping into his life after being absent for so many years. Luckily, they're able to take time out and attend a father/son therapy group run by none other than Carrie Fischer.
"Austin Powers" will be funny for just about anyone, but the gags will ring truest to those who lived through the late sixties, and remember such films as "Blowup" (1966). Many of the jokes are aimed just as squarely at the British as they are the time period, and few of them misfire. Myers seems to get better and better with each script he writes, and here he managed to make light of a subject that few people gave much thought to.
Looking back in hindsight, Swinging London was just asking to be made fun of. I'm surprised it took someone this long to do it.
©1997 James Kendrick