Powers Trip

Cool, calculated an cheeky, "The spy

June 11, 1999|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

Has Austin Powers sold out?

"Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" is so full of product placements, and so calculated to appeal to the young audience that made the first "Austin Powers" movie such a hit, that it looks like the little-movie-that-could of 1997 has blossomed into a big, bad franchise.

Luckily, the franchise is a winning one, at least so far. And Mike Myers, the author of the "Austin Powers" concept and the protean actor behind the story's two main characters, provides such a genial sense of good fun that even the crassest elements of "The Spy Who Shagged Me" come off as sneakily cheeky.

Indeed, when names like Virgin/Atlantic and Heineken -- which Myers has been hawking on billboards and television ads -- are dropped with impunity, they simply fit right in with the movie's ironic send-up of its cheesy forebears.

The important thing is that "The Spy Who Shagged Me" won't disappoint Austin's fans, even if it doesn't have the same sense of giddy surprise as the original.

From the opening sequence, in which Austin cavorts naked through a hotel with his nether regions hidden by suggestive kitchen items, Myers makes frequent references to the first movie. Dr. Evil's "Shhh" routine with his son Scott (Seth Green) is revisited, as is Austin's bad-driving bit (in a mod-colored Volkswagen Beetle, another Powers Product). There's even another appearance by Burt Bacharach, whose cameo with Elvis Costello stops the show (if a bit unfortunately).

If these schticks seem warmed-over, they still reassure Austin-ites that their favorite geeky spy has changed not a whit.

"The Spy Who Shagged Me" finds the recently married Austin still honeymooning with the comely Vanessa (Elizabeth Hurley), an idyll that is interrupted by a major irreconcilable difference, and by the reappearance of Dr. Evil (played by Myers).

The doctor's first order of business is to reunite with his son in the movie's funniest scene, played out on "The Jerry Springer Show" ("My Father is Evil and Wants to Take Over the World"). His second is to adopt a surrogate son, a dwarf he calls "Mini-Me," and shower him with the affection he withholds from Scott.

Evil's third order of business is to get revenge on Austin Powers. He invents a time machine that will allow him to travel back to the 1960s, steal the source of Austin's power (mojo) and let the design and costume team of "The Spy Who Shagged Me" have a field day with some fabulous Carnaby Street retro-chic.

Hoping to foil Dr. Evil, Austin travels back in time, too, along the way meeting CIA agent Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham) and running afoul of Fat Bastard, an enormous Scotsman played by Myers from underneath a ton of prosthetic flab.

It's this last character, a disgusting combination of Jabba the Hut and the Springfield Elementary janitor from "The Simpsons," that might send many of Austin's adult fans out to the lobby for a cold drink, especially during a nasty sequence involving Felicity and a suppository tracking device.

F.B. has clearly been designed for the 13-year-old set that might find the movie's more subtle jokes going over their heads (in an "Austin Powers" movie, references to Moon Unit Zappa, the Alan Parsons Project and send-ups of movies from "Jerry Maguire" to "The Island of Dr. Moreau" are what passes for subtle).

If an obese Scotsman scarfing chicken isn't your idea of humor, there's always scatology, of which there is plenty here. And there's always, always sex. Two especially funny sequences involve some suggestive shadow-play with Felicity and Austin, and a clever montage describing a phallic-looking rocket ship (let's just say both Willie Nelson and Woody Harrelson show up for cameos).

If that last routine is overplayed, who cares? By that time you're either into the Austin vibe or you're not. And "The Spy Who Shagged Me" unfolds with such sprightly, good-natured brio that it's impossible not to get in on the jokes, no matter how crude or low their denominators. This is a tribute to Myers, who is surrounded by a cast of game supporting players (who knew Rob Lowe did such a good Robert Wagner impression?), but carries the water here with amazing energy and focus. And in a smart move, he has ratcheted up the role of Dr. Evil, a character of more hilarious colors than the relatively one-note Austin.

More important, Myers hasn't lost sight of those baby boomer classics -- "In Like Flint," "Modesty Blaise," "Casino Royale" and their prime-time counterparts -- that inspired "Austin Powers" in the first place. It's Myers' loving homage to those so-bad-they're-great '60s movies that keeps older fans happy.

Reportedly, Myers has signed on for four more "Austin Powers" installments. As long as he sticks to the original recipe -- goofy nostalgia, smart pop culture references, naughty humor and lots of corny sight gags -- the formula should keep his mojo working for at least a little while longer.

`Austin Powers'

Starring Mike Myers, Heather Graham

Directed by Jay Roach

Rated PG-13 (sexual innuendo and crude humor)

Running time: 95 minutes

Released by New Line Cinema

Sun score: *** Pub Date: 6/11/99

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