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Austin Powers returns from the past a little worse for wear.

By Coury Turczyn

JUNE 21, 1999:  Who'd have thought that "Do I make you horny, baby?" would become a national catchphrase, right up there with golden classics like "Yeah, that's the ticket" or "You go, girlfriend"? Certainly not moviegoers when Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery was first released in 1997. It was a mid-sized hit that lacked any of the usual tie-in products or cross-media hype that we normally associate with studio "event" movies. It was just another comedy that came and went, not unlike a million comedies before it.

But Austin Powers was unlike 90 percent of its predecessors in that it was genuinely funny. Audiences didn't swarm to its showings probably because it was a difficult concept to relay: A spoof of mid-to-late '60s international spy capers, like In Like Flint or the Matt Helm series, with a nod to Blow-Up and (of course) James Bond. This was a movie for movie geeks, with references and gags that only a geek could appreciate right off the bat. Astoundingly, though, Mike Myers nailed it, creating a singularly silly character who shags his way through so many movie conventions that Austin Powers stands as one of the best genre parodies since Airplane! started the genre parody genre.

A funny thing happened after its videotape release, though: masses of people discovered how funny the movie was, and suddenly "Yeah, baby!" could be heard ringing throughout offices and schools across the country. This created a surprising yearning among the populace for more adventures from the Edwardian-decked fop, and New Line Cinema has taken advantage of it with a mind-boggling amount of marketing for the sequel, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. It wouldn't be out of line to say that this is the most anticipated sequel in years (not including that other one); it took me three separate trips to the theater last weekend to finally find a showing that wasn't sold out. America not only wants Austin Powers, it loves Austin Powers. The sequel grossed 54.7 MILLION dollars that weekend—the third highest three-day opening of all time (take that, Spielberg!). That's just a little more than the original made in its entire theatrical run.

What's going on here? It's pretty simple: There aren't too many good-natured comedies being made these days with lovable heroes. For all its parody elements, the original Austin Powers doesn't have a spiteful bone to stick in anybody's craw. You could tell Myers had a real affection for Austin and his mod world, and he was too clever to let his movie become insultingly stupid or hiply ironic—and as a performer, Myers takes great pleasure in embarrassing himself instead of others. It's unfortunate that Myers didn't quite follow through with The Spy Who Shagged Me.

For what it's worth, the plot is this: Dr. Evil uses a "time machine" (as he calls it) to send his henchman Fat Bastard (a 700 pound flatulent Scotsman) back to 1969 to steal the cryogenically frozen Austin Power's "mojo." Mojo, we're informed, is his swinging essence, the loss of which will render him powerless to shag women or defeat Dr. Evil. Austin must regain his mojo and stop Dr. Evil from going back in time himself to destroy Washington D.C. with a moon-based "laser."

The real danger Austin faces is trying to mine more jokes out of a genre that he covered so well the first time. And while Myers does manage to throw in a few new gags, he mostly repeats the exact same routines from the original Austin Powers—but with less spontaneity. There's the naked prancing about accompanied by strategically placed phallic symbols, Dr. Evil's pathetic attempts to use pop culture references, the whole "shushing" bit (now replaced with "zip it"), the "yes! yes! yes! NO!" photo shoot, the cameo from Burt Bacharach, etc., etc. All of this is agreeably chuckle-worthy, but the novelty has definitely worn off.

Worse, the new gags aren't exactly welcome additions to Austin's lexicon of humor—Myers throws his beloved character hip-deep into lots of toilet humor. Do we really need to see Austin drink a cup of diarrhea and hear him say, "This tastes like shit!"? No, we do not. Do we really need to have Myers swaddled into a million-dollar fat suit just so we can see Fat Bastard's hairy ass crack? I say no. While Myers professes to believe that there's no difference between "smart" humor and "stupid" humor, somebody ought to tell him there is indeed a difference between funny and not so funny. Too bad director Jay Roach didn't take it upon himself to do so.

Thankfully, the bad taste is offset with more of the usual Austin silliness as well as a couple of new characters. First, there's Mini-Me, Dr. Evil's one-eighth sized clone who exhibits feral hatred for anyone who's not Dr. Evil. Obviously a riff on Marlon Brando's little pal in The Island of Dr. Moreau, it's so weird it works. Also eminently likable is Heather Graham who gamely takes on the role of randy CIA agent Felicity Shagwell. While Graham certainly defines "shagalicious," it's a shame her character offers no challenge to Austin—as a love interest, she immediately throws herself into his bed, completely avoiding any sort of the romantic friction that at least made an appearance in the first film with Elizabeth Hurley's upright Ms. Kensington.

Nevertheless, it's great to see Austin in action once more. I have a feeling we'll be seeing more of him—particularly after his $54 million opening. But I just hope he finds some new schtick in his time travels.

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