Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

The peak James Bond movies — say, any of the original Sean Connery entries, and maybe the first two Roger Moores — couldn’t have been made in any other period except the mod ’60s and groovy early ’70s. There were two British invasions, the Beatles and Bond, and America went daft for a while. Our culture reflected it, and the Bond movies, ever more gaudy and excessive, were decadence on a grand scale. But the spy genre after Vietnam — even the drum-tight GoldenEye — seemed glumly realistic, with largely colorless villains and almost no sex.

Austin Powers, the goofy-deadpan parody written by and starring Mike Myers (Wayne’s World), takes a page from GoldenEye and asks what might happen if a smug, womanizing secret agent from the ’60s were transplanted to the politically correct ’90s. In GoldenEye, Bond was all too regretfully aware of the shifts in sexual politics; Austin Powers, frozen in 1967 and revived in 1997, remains blissfully ignorant. “Am I making you randy, baby?” he asks a potential conquest, imagining himself to be irresistible. As, in a sense, he is. He’s so cheerfully retro-sexist he’s almost a breath of fresh air.

The movie is Mike Myers’ valentine to the Bond films and ’60s Brit culture in general. The costume designers must have had fun; this and Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion may spark a new trend in form-hugging leather. Myers has more or less duplicated a typical espionage plot: the Blofeldian villain Dr. Evil (also played by Myers) steals a nuclear weapon and holds the world hostage for $100 billion. The joke is that Dr. Evil, who’d also been on ice for the last thirty years, was originally going to demand $1 million — big bucks in 1967.

You don’t necessarily have to be familiar with the movies Myers spoofs in order to enjoy Austin Powers, though it helps. What I enjoyed more than the specific parodies was the spirit behind them. Myers is reviving a style and sensibility that have been frozen since, well, about 1967; when Austin Powers emerges into 1997, he brings his era with him. This allows a few culture-clash jokes, such as Dr. Evil attending group therapy with his genetically-engineered offspring (the cynically funny Seth Green). At the end of this scene, Dr. Evil launches into a childhood reminiscence that gets increasingly bizarre; it sounds like classic Myers.

Elizabeth Hurley also turns up as a second-generation agent who eventually climbs into an Emma Peel get-up, just like her mom (Mimi Rogers), who was Austin’s partner thirty years ago. Hurley is about the right age to be the result of a forgotten “shag” between Austin and his partner; Myers never plants this reverse-Oedipal revelation, though I expected it. Much of Austin Powers could have been lifted from Roger Ebert’s book of clichés; Ebert probably loved such touches as Dr. Evil insisting on putting Austin in an elaborate death trap that doesn’t work. Mike Myers is slowly carving himself a niche as the next Steve Martin (whose early comedies resemble Myers’). He’s an eager postmodern prankster — a Jim Carrey who can also write, and a Quentin Tarantino who can also act.

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