By Jon Roig
Arizona Daily Wildcat May 1, 1997
Austin Powers: International Man of Miseryroig@u.arizona.edu
Let's face it - James Bond was cool. He was a smooth operator, debonair in the face of danger. Men wanted to be him . Women just wanted to be with him. He had nifty devices, never got a wrinkle in his suit and was delivering snappy one-liners back when Sc hwarzenegger was still lifting bratwurst in Austria.
"Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery" is the newest pretender to 007's throne. By day, he's a fab fashion photographer in London's psychedelic '60s; by night he fights evil wherever it threatens the swinging nightlife. Powers and his arch-nemesis Dr. Evil (also played by Myers) are cryogenically frozen and revived, "Brady Bunch" style, 30 years in the future. (Ok, so the Brady Bunch weren't cryogenically frozen € but they were brought into the '90s as if nothing had happenned since the '60s) Much madcap mayhem ensues as they grapple with the changed social climate of the '90s. Dr. Evil goes to an encounter group to deal with his son, Scott. Zany! Austin Powers has to give up his swinger lifestyle and start a life of monogamy. Kooky! Let's hear it for subtlety € it's an underappreciated art, these days.
I guess it goes without saying, but we've been here before. "Austin Powers" isn't a good spy movie. In fact, it doesn't seem like much of a movie at all, just a collection of random scenes. And none of them are funny.
It's a shame, really, because Mike Myers has done a lot of great work € both "So I Married an Axe Murderer" and "Wayne's World" were hilarious. So what happened with "Austin Powers?"
Look at movies like "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" or "Scream." Both parody popular film genres of the past in this case, black exploitation and slasher flicks, respectively. And they both do it well. "Scream," especially, has a running commentary about the predictability of horror films, and uses it as a plot device to build tension and suspense. It's still a horror movie, despite its mockery of horror movie clichs, but, unlike "Austin Powers," "Scream" displays intelligence and a keen appreciation for the genre's style. "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" steals liberally from black exploitation films like "Shaft," "Dolemite" and "Superfly," but slyly plays with the genre's conventions. Both films are tributes as much as they are parodies.
Why bother parodying the spy movies of the '60s? Time has done that for us € it's impossible to watch a James Bond film like "Goldfinger" or James Coburn in "Our Man Flint" without laughing. They're great films, colorful as well as rich in plot developmen t. Besides, the case could be made that the newest James Bond film, "Goldeneye" already did what "Austin Powers" attempted: Pierce Brosnan is sort of a goofy send-up of the whole Bond legend, a self-parody of a kind, a superspy born a decade too late. Eve n though "Goldeneye" is completely self-aware and a little too self-conscious, there are still lots of explosions and Bond turns the mack on High. That's the way spy movies were meant to be. It's hard to believe that Austin Powers was ever a player. He's a dork. And yes, that's supposed to be the source of the movie's humor, but the joke gets old after about 15 minutes.
"Austin Powers" just tries too hard and the humor hits you over the head like a sledgehammer. Myers mines "Goldfinger" for camp value, but his efforts are lost in failed attempts at irony. Odd Job is back from the old days, but now he throws his shoes ins tead of his hat. Pussy Galore has been replaced with Allotta Fagina. Instead of making a new, oddball spy movie, Myers rehashes the funnier moments of the James Bond classic, but without any sort of context or story. Pussy Galore, despite her name, was a richly-developed character. Her misanthropic actions had motivation. Allota Fagina is just a talking body for Powers to "shag," another prop on a set littered with retro-style bric-a-brac.
The '60s were a fine decade for spy movies ... and men like Flint and Bond, they just weren't made for these more puritanical times. Skip "Austin Powers" and think Hugh Heffner, Secret Agent. Accept no substitutes € go out and rent the originals. Every vi deo store has a rich selection. This Austin Powers guy is just a pale imitation.