WFTB Score: 13/20
The plot: Dastardly Dr Evil inflicts a fate worse than death on shagadelic British agent Austin Powers by going back to the 1960s and stealing the very thing that defines him – his ‘mojo’. Austin goes back to the 60s himself and teams up with foxy CIA operative Felicity Shagwell to retrieve it and stop Dr Evil’s plan for world domination, but the villain puts obstacles both big and small in their way.
By the 1990s James Bond had been so heavily parodied even some of the Bond films were little more than self-conscious send-ups of themselves (witness Roger Moore rustling up a meal in A View to a Kill). This being the case, the success of Mike Myers’ crooked-toothed secret agent Austin Powers in 1997’s Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery was something of a surprise; but a hit it was, and two years later came a sequel with the Bond-referring title The Spy Who Shagged Me. Not a particularly clever pun, you may think: but sort of funny nonetheless.
The film begins (after a Star Wars-style scrolling recap) with Austin on his honeymoon and alarmed to discover that his new bride Vanessa (Liz Hurley, thankfully in the briefest of cameos) is in fact just another of Dr Evil’s ‘fembots’, but he escapes to enjoy being newly single and do battle with his old nemesis, last seen in a Big Boy in space. Dr Evil (Myers again, of course) has not been idle (in an odd piece of product placement, his corporation runs Starbucks) and whilst he has not patched up relations with sulky son Scott (Seth Green), he has created both a “time machine” (his quotes, not mine) and a 1/8 scale version of himself called ‘Mini-Me’ (Verne Troyer).
He also has a fiendish plan: he will travel back to 1969 and employ inside man ‘Fat Bastard’ (Myers, in acres of latex) to rob the cryogenically-frozen Austin Powers of his mojo, thereby stopping the swinging spy in his tracks. The ploy is immediately successful, forcing modern-day Austin – with the help of the ever-useful Basil Exposition (Michael York) – to travel back in time himself to find Dr Evil’s volcano lair and stop the next, more predictable phase of his plan, ie. to hold the world to ransom with the aid of a moon-based laser dubbed (to Scott’s derision) “The Alan Parsons Project”.
Austin is not alone in his quest, as he is sought out by shapely CIA agent Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham) and the pair find there’s a mutual attraction. However, since Powers has lost his powers and Basil needs Felicity to get up close and personal with Fat Bastard in order to track down Dr Evil, Austin has more than the mere pursuit of a madman on his mind as he infiltrates Evil’s hideaway.
It’s pretty standard practice for a sequel to re-tread or reverse the plot of its predecessor and in this respect Austin’s journey back to the 60s is a case of more of the same. Austin’s catchphrases are present and correct and the banter between Evil and his various cronies is much as it was in International Man of Mystery (although Rob Lowe amusingly takes Robert Wagner’s place for much of the movie as a young No. 2). There is also a preponderance of toilet humour and much juvenile sniggering about sexual organs, plus a shadow trick which, though spiced up, is as old as the hills; even the Bond spoofing borders on being overly self-conscious (Austin watches In Like Flint, so at least the film acknowledges its debts).
In between, however, are some very good innovations: Mini-Me is hilariously deviant and although he’s appallingly treated in the final reel, Troyer appears to be game so complaints about a lack of political correctness are redundant; there is also fun to be had with the identity of Scott Evil’s mother (step forward an excellent Mindy Sterling as Frau Farbissina). On Austin’s side, the time travel conundrums (with the obvious nods to Back to the Future) are swept lightly away by Basil, and in Felicity Austin has a feistier and more believable ally than Liz Hurley ever was. Heather Graham is by no means the world’s greatest actress, but at least she’s an actress* and looks amazing in 60s gear and her Dr No-style white bikini – Myers looks rather less amazing in his. It was also nice to see Elvis Costello pop up to accompany Burt Bacharach.
One innovation that isn’t so welcome is Fat Bastard, an obscene, greasy character with no redeeming features whatsoever, save for audience members who find the line ‘I ate a baby!’ priceless. He does have that gross-out value, but he doesn’t really fit in with the tenor of the rest of the film and I found myself looking away most of the time he appeared on-screen.
The introduction of a third character for Myers smacks of the actor trying to ensure he bags every laugh in the film, a feeling strengthened by the late appearance of two Austins (one from ‘ten minutes from now’) engaging in mutual admiration. And in Dr Evil’s ever lengthier talks with his cronies there’s a hint of the indulgence that would sink the next sequel, Goldmember: yes, it’s passingly amusing, but Evil’s rendition of Just the Two of Us adds nothing to the film in terms of advancing the plot.
By and large, though, The Spy Who Shagged Me moves plenty quickly enough and has enough jokes that stick to make it a very enjoyable watch. Familiarity with the characters, good casting and an improved production budget (there’s some good stuff in space) ensure that this is the best of the Austin Powers series by some margin, even if it hints within itself that Powers is a two-movie joke at most. You won’t learn much about yourself whilst watching it, except for your personal limits about tastelessness, since (like the title) it’s not a clever movie: but it’s funny nonetheless.
NOTES: Yes, I may be taking my prejudice a bit far. See my review of Bedazzled.