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AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME

by: Scott Renshaw

First, this must be said: I was wrong about the original AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY. In 1997, I gave the film an unenthusiastic 5 out of 10, noting that writer/star Mike Myers' infatuation with old "Saturday Night Live" sketches and characters blunted the truly inspired comic moments. I'm still pretty comfortable with my rating, though a recent second viewing suggested I may have been slightly stingy (Dr. Evil alone is too hilarious not to warrant at least a mild recommendation). No, I was wrong in a suggestion I made for improvement. I thought AUSTIN POWERS might have worked better as a pure 1960s period piece rather than a fish-out-of-water comedy with shagadelic, cryogenic secret agent Austin Powers (Myers) coping with 1990s life when he's thawed out to battle old nemesis Dr. Evil (also Myers). AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME proves that a different temporal setting wouldn't have changed anything, because Myers used a different temporal setting and didn't change anything.

Those familiar with the original -- mostly from its spectacular second life on video -- will recall that we left Dr. Evil drifting through space in his Big Boy rocket while Austin honeymooned with agent Vanessa Kensington (Elizabeth Hurley). Both the Big Boy and Vanessa are quickly dispatched to set Dr. Evil on his latest plan, which requires getting Austin out of the way. His fiendish plot involves traveling back through time to 1969 to steal from the still-frozen Austin the source of all his Powers: his mojo. Faster than you can say Basil Exposition (Michael York), Austin has a time machine of his own, and pops back to swinging London. There he teams up with CIA operative Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham) to recapture the mojo in question and prevent something evil from happening.

The exact nature of that something evil is, of course, entirely beside the point. THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME is at its goofy best when it's most self-aware, mocking film conventions of all sorts. Austin and Felicity drive through the "English Countryside" while noting "it's amazing how much England looks in no way like Southern California;" concerns about physics of time travel are dismissed with an admonishment to the audience to do the same. Myers can be utterly brilliant working with incongruous situations, as when he follows a romantic liaison between Dr. Evil and co-worker-in-evil Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling) with an awkward "morning after" meeting at the underground lair's coffee machine. When Myers finds a comic target -- Starbucks, the music of the 80s, STAR WARS' opening narrative crawl -- he knows how to use it.

He also doesn't know how to stop using it. The original AUSTIN POWERS was at its most wearying when Myers took a joke and beat all semblance of life out of it for several agonizing minutes. He's at it again this time, and he's using identical gags he already exhausted in the previous film. Once again, a naked Austin's naughty bits are hidden strategically by other (usually phallic) objects; once again, Dr. Evil engages in a binge of pre-emptively shushing his son Scott (Seth Greene); once again, Austin makes several exaggerated, James Bond-like puns referring to a villain's demise. Even the original's best sequence -- the Evil family therapy session -- is revisited as a "Jerry Springer" episode. And when Myers does come up with a new concept, he still insists on using it twice, or twice as long as necessary. We've all come to expect sequels that recycle huge chunks of the original, usually in the action genre. When a satirical comedy loses its sense of discovery, there's not much reason for it to exist.

The one major change is the 1969 setting, though there doesn't seem to be much point to it. The best reason for putting Austin back in his element is to watch him be his lascivious, un-self-conscious self through contemporary eye

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