Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me (United States, 1999)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The title character's "mojo" isn't the only thing missing from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Also absent are the freshness and spontaneity that characterized the original. Those characteristics have been replaced by lame and obvious attempts at comedy and a lead actress with a particularly poor sense of comic timing. While the movie boasts several sequences of inspired humor, too much of what The Spy Who Shagged Me has to offer is tired and derivative, and, when the various jokes and gags are tallied, there are many more misses than hits. Coupled with the dilution of the Bond-related satire that suffused the first entry (this film takes more badly-aimed shots at Star Wars than at 007), it all equates to a disappointing theatrical experience.

When the original Austin Powers was released two years ago, it became a surprising success story. Not only did the film achieve cult status, but it attained a modicum of mainstream acceptance, and revived Mike Myers' flagging career. And, while Austin Powers had its flaws, such as a tendency to drag in between comic pinnacles, it also possessed a breezy charm that made for a welcome, if admittedly sophomoric, time at the movies. The Spy Who Shagged Me attempts to recapture its predecessor's popularity by mining exactly the same territory. Only this time, the jokes aren't nearly as funny and the slow parts have become tedious. And, while I never expected anything meaningful from The Spy Who Shagged Me, I was disappointed by how infrequently the material provoked a genuine, from-the-gut laugh.

The film opens with a nod to the summer's biggest offering by featuring a Star Wars-like crawl that reminds audiences about Austin's previous adventure. Soon, we're joining the International Man of Mystery in a tropical retreat, where he's honeymooning with his bride, Vanessa (Elizabeth Hurley). However, since Hurley wasn't interested in reprising her role for more than a minute or two, the character is quickly and effectively dispatched. With his status as a single male restored, Austin prepares to play the field, but his plans are interrupted by the return of Dr. Evil (Myers). Also back are Evil's son, Scott (Seth Green); his second-in-command, Number Two (Robert Wagner); and another of his criminally-minded lieutenants, Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling). New bad guys include a pint-sized clone of Dr. Evil named Mini-Me (Verne J. Troyer) and a one-ton henchman with the appropriate moniker of Fat Bastard (Myers again).

Using a time machine, Dr. Evil travels back to 1969, where he steals Austin Powers' "mojo." Powers, suddenly sexually dysfunctional in 1999, follows his arch-nemesis back in time. Teamed with American CIA agent Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham), Powers faces an imposing double task: retrieve his lost libido and put an end to Dr. Evil's latest lunatic plan, which involves pointing a moon-based laser at Washington D.C. and demanding $100 billion from the U.S. President (Tim Robbins).

Myers tops his dual role from Austin Powers by taking on a third persona this time around: Fat Bastard, a cantankerous Scotsman who bears a striking physical resemblance to the overweight slob who exploded in the most memorable scene from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. Fat Bastard's primary purpose is to up the level of scatological comedy. Unfortunately, while he's very good at grossing out an audience, his comic skills will only work on those who revel in bathroom humor. As far as the other two roles are concerned, Myers slips comfortably into the familiar skins of both Dr. Evil and Austin. If there's a third entry into this series, undoubtedly the actor will add a fourth character.

Unfortunately, once you get beyond Myers' creative and energetic performances, there's not a great deal left in the acting department. Robert Wagner reprises his role as Number Two (with Rob Lowe doubling for him in a younger form during the 1969 sequences), but he has so little screen time that he's barely noticeable. Michael York returns as Basil Exposition, as do Mindy Sterling as Frau Farbissina and Seth Green as Dr. Evil's pragmatic son. The big casting mistake comes in the form of Heather Graham, who has the looks and physical assets to play Austin's sidekick/love interest, but not the comic aptitude. Unlike Elizabeth Hurley, who tore into her role with guts and gusto, and relished every ludicrous line, Graham is too subdued, and there are a few scenes where she appears to be trying to act rather than overact. As poor a choice as Graham is, she's doesn't give the worst performance of the movie. Masochists in the audience will appreciate an excruciating cameo by Jerry Springer.

For all of its problems, The Spy Who Shagged Me has its high points. The banter between Dr. Evil and his son is frequently laced with witticisms (mostly on Scott's part as he indicates obvious flaws in his father's diabolical, convoluted plans). There's a very funny scene in silhouette that makes it appear that Austin and Felicity are into some extraordinarily kinky sexual activities. (Those who are easily offended, beware.) And there's a cleverly edited sequence that has various bit players coming up with different ways to describe a spaceship that resembles male genitalia. This segment challenged the writers to unearth more than a dozen PG-13 rated synonyms for the male reproductive organs. It's juvenile, but amusing, and features cameos from "Woody" Harrelson and "Willie" Nelson.

By using the same director, Jay Roach, for both films, a certain continuity is assured. Set design for The Spy Who Shagged Me is suitably colorful and outrageous. The film's vision of the 1960s bears no resemblance to reality, but it's pleasing to the eyes. The musical cues, plainly designed to sell the soundtrack, are mostly nondescript. Overall, however, there's little in the sequel that stands out, and, aside from the handful of comic highlights, The Spy Who Shagged Me fails to arrest the attention. The original Austin Powers worked because it was new. And, while this one is certainly watchable, that's far from a ringing endorsement. In the final analysis, it's basically a drag, baby.

Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me (United States, 1999)

Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 1999-06-11
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1