Swinging Sixties here I come!
Behind "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace", "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" is probably the second-most anticipated movie of the year. The original "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" was a sleeper hit during its theatrical run in 1997, and it earned a loyal following after being released on video. Now, two years later, Canadian comic Mike Myers returns as the secret agent man in crushed velvet. Unfortunately, like its titular character, this disappointing sequel seems to have misplaced its mojo in the process.
Machine gun jubblies? How did I miss that?
The action in "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" picks up immediately after the events of the first film. Austin Powers (Myers), having thwarted Dr. Evil's (Myers) plans for world domination, is enjoying his honeymoon on the French Riviera with his fellow agent Vanessa Kensington (Elizabeth Hurley, who minimized her participation this time around). However, Austin's romantic bliss is short-lived when his new bride is dispatched in a hastily contrived turn of events, leaving him a swinging single once again.
Why did you run out on me?
Because you're not e-ville enough.
Meanwhile, Dr. Evil has returned from space to continue his plans for conquering the world. This time around, the Blofeldian arch-nemesis uses a 'time machine' to travel back to the Sixties to steal the 'mojo' from Austin's cryogenically frozen body. With Austin's powers of seduction and superheroics gone, Dr. Evil seems unstoppable as he aims a moon-based 'laser' at Washington D.C., holding the United States ransom for $100 billion.
Shagwell by name, shag very well by reputation.
Not if I can help it!
With the world in peril, Head of British Intelligence Basil Exposition (Michael York) sends Austin back in time to the year 1969, where he hooks up with the comely and curvaceous CIA agent Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham of "Lost in Space"). Together, they must locate Dr. Evil's secret lair, avoid the deadly schemes of his middling minions, save the world, and most important of all, retrieve the missing mojo. However, standing in their way are Dr. Evil's associates, including Number Two (Robert Wagner), Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling), and Scott Evil (Seth Green). In addition, some new villains have also been thrown into the fray, including Dr. Evil's diminutive clone Mini-Me (Verne J. Troyer), the grossly-overweight Fat Bastard (Myers), and hard-to-kill temptress Robin Swallows (Gia Carides).
He is like you in every way... only 1/8th your size.
Splendid... I shall call him Mini-Me.
Much of what made the first film a lot of fun to watch is present the second time around, including the script's cheeky irreverence and nudge-nudge-wink-wink sensibility, the deconstruction of spy film clichés, and an excess of Day-glo Sixties-inspired production design. Some of the more engaging comic set-pieces include an appearance by father and son Evil on "The Jerry Springer Show" and a cleverly-edited sequence using every euphemism for the male organ that includes cameo appearances by 'Willie' Nelson and 'Woody' Harrelson. Unfortunately, there is also a weary sense of déja vu in watching this film, as much of the comic material from the original film is recycled from the original. And though it is amusing to watch Dr. Evil 'shhh'-down his son and hear Austin belt out those tawdry double-entendres, these running gags lack the punch of the first-time around.
And who are you, baby?
Ivana... Ivana Humpalot.
Well, I wanna gold plated toilet, but that's just not in the cards, is it?
The script also unravels unevenly, playing itself out more like a series of pasted-together comic sketches, without the benefit of a cohesive narrative. This becomes most apparent in the film's second act, in which the momentum is dragged down by one-too-many musical interludes and some lamely regurgitated comic bits from the first film. Even with the film's central conceit of not taking itself too seriously, the end result is plodding and uninspiring. The first film's narrative at least had the benefit of Austin and Dr. Evil's often-painful attempts at trying to fit into a changed world, which drove the story forward and added some emotional weight to the proceedings. This time around, the haphazard plot seems to be more concerned with setting up for some quick laughs than making its characters interesting. The missing mojo plot point never rises above being a mere afterthought in the film's proceedings, and it would have been far more interesting had the script focused on Austin's difficulty in reintegrating into the swinging Sixties culture, having been changed by his time spent in the monogamous Nineties.
Do you smoke after sex?
I don't know, baby... I never looked!
Even more distressing is that the sequel also suffers from two problems that plagued the first film, a weak sense of comic timing and a juvenile over-reliance on scatological humor. And while these problems were tolerable in the first film, they are heightened in the sequel by the lack of fresh material and an engaging script. A number of comic sequences run on far too long, long after the jokes have run out of steam, including an overly-extended opening musical number, the effects of Dr. Evil drinking Austin's mojo, and a no-holds-barred showdown between Mini-Me and Austin. The film's excess of scatological humor is embodied in the character Fat Bastard, a one-joke wonder whose whole raison-d'être is to squeeze out every last bit of humor from a bodily function-- which he strains from misuse.
With little gumption in the writing department, most of the performances suffer, with the exception of Myers jovial portrayal of Austin and Dr. Evil. Rob Lowe does an excellent turn as the Sixties version of Number Two, perfectly mimicking the vocal tics of Wagner. Unfortunately, he is given little material to work with, wasting an otherwise interesting performance (Lowe actually made a cameo appearance in the first film, though the scene was left on the cutting room floor). Graham, other than being easy on the eyes, seems woefully out of her element, turning in a weak performance as Austin's love interest-- at times, she seems to be trying too hard to be in on the joke. Hurley, on the other hand, was able to bring a tongue-in-cheek sense of enthusiasm to her role in the previous film, deliciously chewing on the absurdities that were thrown her way.
Though "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" lacks the abundance of wit and charm of its predecessor, it still manages to deliver some of the goods on a most basic level. This outing certainly does have its moments, but disappointingly enough, those moments are few and far between. In addition, the pace is a lot slower and the material is a lot thinner this time. While it certainly is a kick to see Myers back in the iconic role he made famous, this vapid sequel misses more often than it hits, and the end result is not only disappointing, but is quickly forgotten.