Sun, 05 Sep 1999

'The Spy Who Shagged Me,' groovy but not the original

By Rayya Makarim

JAKARTA (JP): Brace yourself for another psychedelic escapade featuring that celebrated British spy who makes bad teeth a fashion statement. The Saturday Night Live veteran, Mike Myers, is back in Jay Roach's Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. This time around, however, Austin's got an improved set of whites and a new partner, Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham) who from the very beginning announces she is "Shagwell by name, shag very well by reputation".

The film opens with a Star Wars-like crawl reminding the audience of Austin's previous adventure. We join the International Man of Mystery on his honeymoon with Vanessa (Elizabeth Hurley) who we almost instantly discover is a "fem- bot". Austin is devastated as he watches his loved one explode into little pieces, and laments for a brief second before rejoicing over the fact that he is single once more. Interrupting his naughty plans is Dr. Evil (Mike Myers) who has invented a time machine so he can travel back to the year 1969 and steal from the still-frozen Austin the source of all his Powers: his "mojo." Powers, suddenly impotent in 1999, follows Dr. Evil back in time to regain his lost libido and destroy his enemy.

Back in 1969, Rob Lowe, who does an excellent impression of Robert Wagner, plays Young Number Two, accompanied by other Evil followers such as the loyal Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling), and the defiant Scottie (Seth Green). Additional bad guys include a pint-sized clone of Dr. Evil called Mini-Me (Verne J. Troyer) and a grossly obese Scot appropriately named Fat Bastard (Myers again).

The screenplay, written by Mike Myers and Michael McCullers, produces a number of hilarious lines. In an effort to employ product placement (or displacement), there's a scene where Dr. Evil reprimands Scottie for not following his destructive nature: "You're the Diet Coke of evil! Just one calorie! Not evil enough!"

Nevertheless, the film is at its best when it pokes fun at numerous movie conventions. Like most action films we know, rather than wasting bullets, megalomaniacs prefer to kill their archenemies using complicated machinery that will allow their captives at least 20 minutes to escape. With this in mind, Scottie criticizes his father for never killing Austin when he had the chance.

Another scene that mocks movie magic is one that involves driving through what is supposed to be the English countryside (obviously shot somewhere in LA). Here, Austin casually turns to the camera and says, "It's amazing how much England looks in no way like southern California." However, in spite of these clever lines, one cannot help but feel that there is something missing in this film, besides the title character's "mojo".

When Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery was released two years ago, it became a hit. Not only did it reach cult status, but it also brought back 1970s lingo such as "groovy" and "psychedelic" with a famous Austin "baby" added at the end. The problem with the new Austin Powers is that it attempts to recapture its predecessor's humor by recycling bits that made the original so popular. Instead of exploring new ground, the writers chose to stay with what they already had (i.e. reprises from part one). It is not clear whether this decision was made because they wanted to remain safe or that they were just short of ideas. There is a tendency to suggest that the latter is true.

There are jokes and complete sequences that have already been exhausted in the previous film. For example, once again, we have Dr. Evil engaging in a rather long sequence of shushing his son; once again, we hear Mustafa's (Will Ferrell) endless plea for help after being badly injured; again, we see Austin prancing around naked with his naughty bits skillfully hidden by other objects.

Other scenes and lines are borrowed from various films such as Independence Day, Jerry Maguire, Star Wars and Apollo 13. There are also several cameos from Jerry Springer, Woody Harrelson, Willie Nelson, Tim Robbins, plus a musical number by Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello. Amusing -- yes, relevant -- not really.

Overall, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me still works, even if it does lack the spontaneity that marked its first success. It is definitely an enjoyable movie, but next time (if there is one), the man who put the "grrr" in "swinger, baby" will have to offer us a little bit more than the usual "That's groovy, baby?"