By Charles Taylor
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By Alan Scherstuhl
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A fine line divides inspired silliness from out-and-out witlessness; it's a short leap from grin to groan. In 1997's Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Mike Myers took a thin premise -- spoof the '60s by transplanting a horny Matt Helm-like secret agent into the '90s -- and danced an unsteady Watusi along that line. Sure, the original was little more than an extended Saturday Night Live sketch filled with bathroom humor and adolescent double entendres, but at least the gags were plentiful. If only one in three were actually funny and the rest merely insipid, that was enough to make the first Austin Powers charming... in a silly, innocuous way.
If only Myers had left it at that. The sequel, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, kills whatever charm the first movie had by recycling its few serviceable parts (as in, the title sequence reprises the hide-the-naughty-bits gag featured twice in the original) and filling the other 85 or so minutes with a dreary series of celebrity cameos (Tim Robbins as the President?!), product plugs (Virgin Megastore, Philips Electronics), dick jokes and extended explorations of the humorous side of the bowel. In interviews, Myers has said he was surprised that so many people got the laughs in the first Austin Powers, with its insider references to forgettable '60s spy flicks. (Anyone seen In Like Flint lately?) Yeah, well, we got it the first time, Mike, and it wasn't that funny then. What else you got?
The answer is, not much. The plot this time around essentially duplicates International Man of Mystery. Austin's nemesis, Dr. Evil -- also played by Myers -- creates a time machine that allows him to travel back to 1969 to steal the frozen Austin's mojo, the mysterious force that drives his libido. A flaccid 1999 Austin follows Dr. Evil in his own time machine -- a psychedelic-painted VW Beetle -- to get back his mojo and stop Dr. Evil's plan to hold the world hostage with a giant moon-based laser. Created by physicist Alan Parsons, the laser is called -- you guessed it -- the Alan Parsons Project.
Of course, the story hardly matters in an Austin Powers movie. Neither do the supporting actors, except to provide the bodies to which Myers attaches goofy names (Ivana Humpalot, Robin Spitz Swallows) or to feed Myers's characters the straight lines that allow him to respond with some variation on Yeah, baby, yeah. Heather Graham (Boogie Nights, Lost in Space) plays Austin's sidekick and love interest, CIA agent Felicity Shagwell. The role demands only that she look good in a miniskirt and feign putting things into, and pulling them out of, Austin's rectum. In one interminable gag, she appears to draw a series of objects -- a knotted rope, an umbrella, a can of sleeping gas, even a gerbil -- from his interior. You wait for her to pull out the script for Austin Powers 3. Instead, she finds... a bottle of Heineken.
The Heineken plug is hardly the most blatant. That's a toss-up between Starbucks -- the coffee company that Dr. Evil runs in the 1990s -- and Chili's. At one point, Fat Bastard, Dr. Evil's 500-pound Scottish henchman (played by Myers in a grotesque fat suit), brags that he once ate a baby -- "the other other white meat." That leads (don't ask how) to a scene in which Fat Bastard sings the entire Chili's baby-back rib jingle. In 1969. Myers seems to think that using product placement as a punch line makes it okay to sell out -- something, no doubt, to do with laughing all the way to the bank.
The baby on the menu is Mini-Me, Dr. Evil's miniature clone (one-eighth the size, all the evil) played by the two-foot-eight-inch-tall Verne Troyer. Watching Troyer mimic Dr. Evil's every gesture or Dr. Evil coo over Mini-Me as though he were a Yorkshire terrier puppy provides two -- and only two --of Shagged Me's handful of laughs. Unfortunately, Myers tries to milk the gag for several dozen. How many times will you chuckle at the sight of a midget flipping a diminutive middle finger? If your answer is more than five, this movie is for you.
What's new here is thinner, more predictable and far more coarse than the first film. The rest is lifted wholesale from the previous movie; if you liked a gag from the first movie, don't worry, because it shows up four more times in this one.
Seth Green makes a particularly grim return as Dr. Evil's troubled teen son, Scott Evil. Elizabeth Hurley (conveniently excised from the movie during its opening sequence), Robert Wagner, Michael York, Will Ferrell and Mindy Sterling also reprise their roles from International Man of Mystery -- same actors, same jokes. Even Burt Bacharach is back for a musical number with Elvis Costello, who evidently got the gig because he provided the model for Austin's teeth. Willie Nelson and Woody Harrelson also appear as the punch lines to an extended dick joke -- pardon the pun -- that's repeated twice.
The movie ends with Dr. Evil promising to return and "get" Austin Powers, and an unhappier ending is hard to imagine. Fact is, Shagged Me runs almost two hours and feels twice as long; imagine Schindler's List, just not as funny. At last week's screening, a boy of about eight, who should at least have appreciated the bathroom humor, asked, "Is it over yet?" a good ten minutes before the final credits.
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