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The Boston Phoenix Shagadelic!

Austin Powers escapes the gray '90s

By Gary Susman

JUNE 14, 1999:  All right, everybody out of the pool. Summer's over.

Really, aside from Austin Powers The Spy Who Shagged Me, are there any more movies this summer you're dying to see? (Okay, there's July's Eyes Wide Shut, but that's less a summer movie than the first chilly gust of the fall Oscar-hopeful season. And the new Star Wars is already a spent Force.) After Austin Powers part deux, that's it, bay-bee, yeah.

Besides, the rest of this summer's movies have their work cut out for them if they want to be as relentlessly entertaining as Austin 2. Brought to you by mostly the same crew that brought you the first Austin Powers (director Jay Roach, writer/star/star again Mike Myers, mood-music baron Burt Bacharach, et al.), this spy spoof is almost exactly as much fun as its predecessor.

Almost exactly because, as with this summer's other sequel-I-mean-prequel (to which AP2 makes some judicious, witty references), the difference between the original movie and its successor is the difference between the naive charm of a low-budget creation that becomes a sleeper hit and the desperation of an attempt to duplicate the same sensation by throwing much more money at it. Although there are some welcome new additions to the mix -- notably Dr. Evil's tiny clone, Mini-Me -- the filmmakers have emulated their villain by creating a replica of the first film but one that seems smaller, albeit more concentrated. If there was a gag you liked in the first film (say, the sequence where carefully placed Freudian foodstuffs camouflage Austin's privates, or the "Shh" exchange between Dr. Evil and his son, Scott), you'll see it again here, probably more than once.

To preserve the first film's chief gag, its '60s-versus-'90s dialectic, AP2 sends Austin Powers (Myers) back in time 30 years to foil a plot by Dr. Evil (Myers again) involving a laser mounted on the moon. Austin is also returning to find his "mojo," his all-important sex drive, ostensibly stolen by Dr. Evil but more likely a casualty of time. It seems that '90s-style monogamy has rubbed off on Austin (despite the perfunctory but convenient pre-credit disposal of Elizabeth Hurley's character from the first film), and he can no longer shag a woman he doesn't love, in this case, Russian spy Ivana Humpalot (Kristen Johnston, whose inventive cameo should do for chess what the movie Tom Jones did for finger food). Fortunately, waiting for him back in the '60s is CIA agent Felicity Shagwell (an impeccable Heather Graham), an eager 99 to Austin's Maxwell Smart.

Austin's midlife crisis could have been the heart of the movie, but that heart, too, is stolen by Dr. Evil, the megalomaniac with the scarred face of Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld and the voice and ill-at-ease-ness of Ed Sullivan. Dr. Evil is again more interesting than his orthodontically challenged nemesis, if just as clueless in his anachronism. AP2 deepens his character by delving further into his relationships with his henchpeople: sensible Number Two (Robert Wagner in the present, and an uncannily Wagneresque Rob Lowe in the past), who turns out to be the evil genius behind Starbucks; Frau Farbissana (Mindy Sterling, channeling Lotte Lenya), whose lesbian severity is challenged by the newly mojo-rich Dr. Evil, and Scott (a magnificently exasperated Seth Green), who vies for his father's affection with a dwarfish clone. Mini-Me (Verne Troyer) is a supremely odd but hilariously welcome addition to the company. On the other hand, the film could do without the other new sidekick, a surly, grotesquely obese Scotsman named Fat Bastard (Myers yet again -- what is it with him and the Scots, whom he's been making fun of since his Saturday Night Live days?), who is the source of AP2's overabundance of Farrelly Brothers-style bathroom humor.

Still, it's Fat Bastard's theft of Austin's mojo for Dr. Evil that sends the film back to the groovy '60s, which, in the Austin Powers universe's glorious Day-Glo costumes and production design (not to mention free love and all that), is much more fun than the '90s. Postmodern irony proves no match for gentle shagadelic silliness. Who wouldn't want to escape to Austin's world, at least for what's left of the summer?


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