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Non-Review Review: Austin Powers – The Spy Who Shagged Me

This post is part of James Bond January, being organised by the wonderful Paragraph Films. I will have reviews of all twenty-two official Bond films going on-line over the next month, and a treat or two every once in a while.

I have to admit that I’m quite fond of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Perhaps it’s the way that the film vindicated its direct predecessor – although Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery did very well on video, the sequel made more money at the box office in its opening weekend than the original film did during its entire theatrical run. Sure, watching the film one can spot the cracks developing which would completely envelop the franchise when the third film, Austin Powers:  Goldmember, was released. However, while it’s probably not quite as good as the original, it’s still a damn entertaining film.

Time to put the franchise to bed...

One of the major problems with the film is one that frequently hounds comedy sequels. the simple fact is that we’ve already seen a lot of this before. Whether it’s Mustafa falling to his not-quite-death or Austin’s string of puns after escaping a death trap and defeating a henchman, there’s a rather feeling that we’ve already been here and done that. The same jokes don’t have the same impact the second time around – which creates a bit of a dilemma for those putting together a comedy sequel. Audiences are going to see the film because of the jokes they laughed at the first time around, and so they want more of the same – give them something too different and you risk alienating them. However, if you stay too similar, you risk just offering more of the same.

Another major problem is simply that you can feel the bar is being lowered. The first movie wasn’t the most tasteful movie in existence, but I feel it managed to find a healthy balance between sophisticated ideas and crass execution. Here, there are moments which seem to exist solely to make the audience squirm – Austin confusing the office coffee pot with a stool sample, for example. This really ended up being carried to even further extremes in the movie that would follow, but the bad taste is still present here.

On the other hand, there’s a lot to like. It offsets some of the excess, in my opinion. There’s something really cool with the movie opening with a variation of a Bond theme (complete with “the villain sucks” lyrics). They Might Be Giants sound absolutely perfectly like Shirley Bassey as they sing “Eeeeevil! Evil is his one and only game!” in what could easily pass as a John Barry Bond theme. In fairness, it seems like the writers exhausted their explicit Bond references – beyond the fact that the hotel has a Casino Royale attached, Austin spots an assassin in a lady’s eye like Goldfinger, the bikini from Dr. No and the fact that the movie goes into space like Moonraker.

His evil dwarfs his own...

Sure, the general references to the franchise continue – what with novelty henchmen, beautiful women and plans for world domination – but it seems the movie has relatively little to say about the subject matter it aims to spoof. There is, however, one aspect I particularly enjoyed. It turns the traditional “Bond must sleep with evil woman” thing on its head, by revealing just how much of a double standard it is.

While Bond will drop a Bond girl for an evil henchwoman (before picking her back up again for the end credits), here we see Austin react when a woman does it to him. It’s a smart little twist on the standard Bond trope, but one I don’t necessarily want to dwell on – if only because, as Dr. Evil remarks to his overweight henchman, “Ok, that’s enough Fat Bastard. As much as I love to see Austin Powers in pain, and I do, the thought of you naked is just gross.”

There are other nice touches throughout. I especially like the movie’s explanation for how Vanessa disappeared from Austin’s life. I choose to believe that something very similar happened to every Bond girl who disappeared after the credits. There’s also the fact that the movie takes time to identify In Like Flint as Austin’s favourite film. I like that a parody of the Bond franchise takes the time to reference the other parodies.

It doesn't stink...

I also like Heather Graham. Also, you know, in this movie as well. At the very least, she makes a far more convincing American Bond girl in short-shorts than Denise Richards at about the same time. She also looks like she’s having a great deal of fun making the movie, which carries a lot of the cast through – from Rob Lowe’s superb vocal impression of Robert Wagner or Seth Green’s exaggerated  emo teenager through to Michael York’s blonde-haired and sideburned Basil Exposition. When Austin questions the nature of time travel, it’s Basil who advises him, “I suggest you don’t worry about those things and just enjoy yourself.” Both Austin and Basil pause to acknowledge the audience sitting in the car with Austin, “That goes for you all, too.”

The film is superbly produced in loving homage to the Bond movies of yesteryear. From the set design to the rather wonderful musical score, the film looks lovely. Jay Roach has a real visual flair. A lot of people were surprised that Roach was able to move from these films to the relatively subdued classier comedy of the original Meet the Parents, but I have to admit that I saw potential here. Roach is a classy director.

I quite like the sequel. It has a charm to it. Perhaps some of the mystery has been lost, but it’s still an entertaining film. As for the third part of the trilogy…

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