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Me spuds are boiling.

Movie

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
(1999)

 

My recollection is that I greeted this first sequel very positively, in contrast to, say, Empire magazine, never usually backwards in effusing over studio fare, which gave it a paltry 2 stars out of 5. The right answer’s probably somewhere between those positions. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me is dependable for hitting the now-familiar Austin Powers beats and catchphrases (both verbal and visual), but it’s rarely very inspired. Indeed, one begins to notice other things about it, vying for attention and invariably winning out over the laughs.

Fat Bastard: Listen, missy. Do you fancy another go? Because once you’ve had fat, you never go back.

On the one hand, a gag is a gag, and any attempt to conflate its intention in broader terms or ascribe previously untold significance can be readily ascribed to reaching. On the other, James Gunn. So Exhibit A here is Fat Bastard (“You know, you really are a fat bastard”). This is Myers pushing his amiable crudity to the max, and mostly getting away with it, even if the ride is occasionally ultra-queasy. I found, and continue to find, in part, the character very funny. But… 

Sure, Fat Bastard’s introductory announcement that “I ate a baby!” is cued up for ogre-ous absurdity, to file next to Blackadder II’s Baby-Eating Bishop of Bath and Wells. Then we recall that Myers is a former Black Hat, suggesting any jokes along such lines, in a town known for preying on children (in one way or another) oughtn’t to be instantly dismissed as innocent surrealism. Particularly when FB compounds his relish by adding “Baby: The other Other White Meat. Baby: It’s what’s for dinner”. Later, Fat Bastard sees Mini-Me and observes “He kind of looks like a baby… Get in my belly!” before offering Dr Evil a different deal (“You get the mojo, you keep your money… and I’ll get your baby”).

So yeah… Much as I find Fat Bastard, allowing Myers a chance to trot out his favoured Scots accent, sporadically hilarious (“Where’s your shitter? I got a turtlehead sticking out!”) and hilariously gross (“I’m dead sexy. Look at my sexy body” he urges Heather Graham’s Felicity Shagwell, on a mission to plant a homing device upon, or in, FB’s person), it’s difficult to avoid taking pause. 

Fat Bastard: Of course I’m not happy! Look at me, I’m a big fat slob. I’ve got bigger titties than you do. I’ve got more chins than a Chinese phonebook. I’ve not seen my willie in two years, which is long enough to declare it legally dead. I can’t stop eating. I eat because I’m unhappy, and I’m unhappy because I eat. It’s a vicious cycle. Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s someone I’d like to get in touch with and forgive. Myself. [Farts] Sorry. I farted. It’s a long road ahead.

So too during the opening musical salvo of sight gags, as a frisky free Austin – “I can’t believe Vanessa… was a fembot all along” – frolics en flagrante around a hotel and… exposes himself to a baby. Is such a response now down to over-sensitisation to such things? Quite possibly. On the other hand, Fat Bastard’s soliloquy on his obesity in not-far-from the final scene (above), succeeds in mining pathos considerably more succinctly than The Whale, and features, possibly, a superior fat suit (certainly a more repellent one).

Obviously, you wouldn’t get to make an Austin Powers this way currently, not with the way it revels in the politically incorrect (not 1 but 2 gags at the expense of Chinese names, various that would be labelled homophobic, including a gay beefeater and Frau Farbissina’s bull-dyke lover, Una Brow). One is also given to wonder, however, whether there’s a stealth creep here, similarly to casting anyone but natural women as any generation of Charlie’s Angels. Are (were) Liz Hurley and Heather Graham (daughter of an author of children’s books and… an FBI agent) simply narrow-hipped vixens or are they in the same, ahem, ballpark as Beyoncé (hermaphrodites)? It would make for a productive use of resources to ensure intended pinups (Charlie’s) or take (down) on the male libido were less than thoroughbred targets (and what might that imply of Bond girls…?)

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me principally makes hay from a plotline highlighting the essential absurdity of time travel. Which gives one to wonder if this isn’t – not this movie specifically, but the concept’s utilisation in the science-fiction genre generally – a means to dismiss its validity. Time travel is theoretically possible, per official science, of course, but whenever it elicits a practical (fictional) demonstration, it routinely falls prey to the perils of causality and internal inconsistency. Which in turn engenders its dismissal as something that could actually exist or operate. Yes, there are plots that offer accountable multiple timelines (multiverses) to tidy up such elements, but isn’t that an equal and opposite example of misdirection (designed to weaken one’s resolve regarding “reality”, in a similar manner to the simulation argument science is fond of floating)?

Basil: I suggest you don’t worry about this sort of thing and just enjoy yourself. That goes for you all too. Yes.

So Basil Exposition makes it clear here that none of it makes any sense; you just need to go with the flow and not think about it too much, which means Myers has licence to deliver gags at the expense of any coherence (the difference between this and a Steven Moffat Doctor Who script is only that Moffat isn’t, ostensibly, writing comedy. Obviously, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was taking the piss too; he’s just laughing at you). Austin has his mojo extracted in 1969, and he suddenly feels the effects in 1999. When he travels back in time to 1969, his teeth suddenly go bad on arrival. During the climax, he travels back 10 minutes and interacts with his 10-minutes-ago self (“We are sexy bitches, yeah”), who returns for a threesome at the end. Because time travel is patently ridiculous. 

Austin Powers: This coffee smells like shit! 
Basil: It is shit, Austin.
Austin Powers: Oh good, then it’s not just me. It’s a bit nutty.

While there’s more than enough here that’s funny, there’s also a lot of dead air along the way. Myers’ delivery in itself often raises a laugh (“Machine gun jubblies”). Austin drinking a cup of Fat Bastard’s liquid shit is about as revoltingly raucous as it gets. Shameless names (Ivana Humpalot). Mini-Me and colourful references and size gags (he’s a “vicious little chihuahua thing” and “Poor little bugger. He’s so small. He’s like a dog or something”). Dr Evil bouncing a giant globe off young No. 2’s forehead. Scott appearing on Jerry Springer, dismissed by dad as only “quasi-evil” and an ensuing fight with fellow guests – “No one talks to my son like that” – descending into Dr Evil stealing a Klansman’s gear: “I got your hood”). 

Scott’s disbelief and mocking of his dad are always good for a laugh (The Alan Parsons Project; Moon Unit Alpha and Zappa). The best bits tend to be the sustained sight-gag variations on a theme, though, from the not 1 but 2 runs based on Dr Evil’s suggestive space ship (dick, pecker, privates, two balls, wang, willie, Johnson; and penis, wiener, nuts, one-eyed monster, Woody, just a little prick). And topping those is the shadow theatre of Austin and Felicity in a tent, she removing items from his “canvas bag” to the horrified responses of the evil henchmen outside (including opening an umbrella, letting off a smoke bomb, extracting a gerbil and inserting a tennis racket).

The movie was an enormous hit, largely based on the only modestly successful first movie having a phenomenal afterlife on DVD and video. It also had a cute, pre-Barbenheimer cross-pollinating ad campaign (“If you only see 1 movie this summer, see Star Wars: Episode I – the Phantom Menace. But if you see 2 movies, see Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me”). As it turned out, audiences saw 3 (The Sixth Sense topped Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me), but the strategy worked. It was No. 3 for the year, stateside. Part 3 was an inevitability…

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