Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (United States, 1997)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Through the years, there have been many big-screen attempts to satirize James Bond, from the terrible misfire Casino Royale to the recent, even-worse Spy Hard. In between, even the "official" Bond series got in on the act -- during the Roger Moore era, the series turned into a virtual self-parody. Now, with the resurgence of Bond as a result of 1995's Goldeneye, spoofing the spy genre is again in vogue. And, after numerous failed shots, someone has finally gotten it at least partly right. That "someone" is ex-Saturday Night Live comic Mike Myers (not to be confused with the Halloween serial killer), the co-creator of Wayne's World. Myers' Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (directed by first-timer Jay Roach) takes aim squarely at the psychedelic '60s and its brand of spy and hits them with the full brunt of his wit.

Myers plays the title character, a goofy-looking, bespectacled secret agent with bad teeth, a hairy chest, and an amazing penchant for getting women into bed. During the '60s, he runs around with an Emma Peel-like sidekick, Mrs. Kensington (Mimi Rogers), repeatedly saving the world from the schemes of the dastardly Dr. Evil (Myers in a double role) and his long-haired cat. But, when Evil goes into cryogenic sleep, Powers follows suit. The two are "reunited" thirty years later as Evil comes out of the deep freeze to pursue his goal of world domination, and Powers is subsequently resuscitated. Although times and morals have changed, Powers' job hasn't, and, along with his new sidekick, Vanessa (Elizabeth Hurley), he starts out on Evil's trail.

Mike Myers is wonderful in his dual role, getting a chance to parody both hero and villain in the same film. Not only that, but as Powers, Myers effects one of the most intentionally outrageous British accents ever heard. Elizabeth Hurley is fine as the sidekick/love interest, although certain outfits she wears will focus attention on attributes other than her comic timing. Robert Wagner plays Number Two (sorry, no Prisoner jokes), Evil's second-in-command, and Michael York has a few scenes as Powers' boss at the British Secret Service (with a name like Exposition, he's sure to be explaining the throw-away plot).

The humor in Austin Powers is extremely varied. As expected, much is focused on lampooning the '60s in general (the clothes, the music, and the attitudes) and the secret agent genre in particular, but there's plenty of room for more general comedy, including a toilet scene (featuring Tom Arnold) that could have been lifted out of Dumb and Dumber. '90s culture also takes a fairly thorough ribbing. The jokes are delivered in saturation style -- there are so many of them that the numerous failures get lost amidst the successes. Comic highlights include a pair of scenes where Myers and Hurley cavort around naked with various objects placed perfectly to obscure anything that might have endangered Austin Powers' PG-13 rating, an attack by ill-tempered sea bass (no sharks available), and a family therapy session between Dr. Evil and his rebellious teenage son (Carrie Fisher has a cameo).

While a familiarity with Bond isn't necessary to appreciate Austin Powers, it helps. The villainous Dr. Evil is modeled upon You Only Live Twice's version of Blofeld (played in that movie by Donald Pleasance). Evil's Asian henchman, Random Task, is a dead ringer for Goldfinger's Oddjob. Powers' furry chest is a nod to Sean Connery, and his nifty gadgets will have viewers looking around for Q. There's also a clever bit where Evil mocks all the convoluted plots that movie villains use to get rid of their enemies. And, in a case of the parody lampooning the satire, Austin Powers lifts the love theme from Casino Royale ("The Look of Love") and uses it here when the dangerously-named Alotta Fagina (Fabiana Udenio) attempts to seduce our hero.

There are times when Austin Powers drags. It can be difficult to sustain even the best humor for ninety minutes, and this film, for all of the laughs it offers, is far from the best. The comedy is like a roller-coaster: it ebbs and flows, and, as a result, is sometimes effective and sometimes tedious. Nevertheless, Austin Powers is worth a look and will definitely boost Myers' career, which has been on hold since he bombed in So I Married an Axe Murderer. For die-hard Bond fans, Tomorrow Never Dies is only a few months away. Today, you can get your kicks by checking out how many of the dozens of 007 references you can spot in Austin Powers.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (United States, 1997)

Director: Jay Roach
Cast: Mike Myers, Elizabeth Hurley, Robert Wagner, Michael York, Fabiana Udenio, Mimi Rogers
Screenplay: Mike Myers
Cinematography: Peter Derning
Music: George S. Clinton
U.S. Distributor: New Line Cinema
Run Time: 1:29
U.S. Release Date: 1997-05-02
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1