March 31, 2006
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
Grade: 40/100

Director: Jay Roach
Stars: Mike Myers, Elizabeth Hurley, Michael York

What it's about. Party animal and good guy spy Austin Powers (Mike Myers) and his megalomaniac rival Dr. Evil (Mike Myers, again) face off against each other both in 1967 and 1997. It seems certain that Dr. Evil's plans will be thwarted, yet he will escape to wreak havoc in the sequel.

In the meanwhile, Austin works on seducing his comely accessory, Elizabeth Hurley, while Dr. Evil tries to reach an understanding with (or kill) his estranged son Scott (Seth Green).

How others will see it. An older audience will recognize the film as a loose parody of Goldfinger, down to the name of villainess (Pussy Galore becomes Alotta Fagina). Michael York and Robert Wagner are roped in for the old folk as well, and I'm sure both are grateful for the work and paycheck.

But this is not a movie for the old. It's for those in their teens and twenties, who are old enough to get the jokes but aren't old enough to roll their eyes and groan upon hearing them. As Austin would say, the film was a smashing success. Which proves (as did Porky's a generation earlier) that the path to Hollywood riches is paved with the unabashed pandering to a large and receptive young audience.

Powers adherents, of which there are admittedly many, even among adults who should know better, will tell you that it's the characters that matter. Certainly there's not much to the story, which faintly imitates superior Bond films from the sixties, when the franchise mattered.

How I felt about it. We have two characters of note. There's Austin Powers, an overheated and dorky-looking man without social inhibitions. And there's Dr. Evil, a bald, pouting, pinky-raising man fond of Mao-like monochrome silver-blue suits.

The goony, mincing Powers wouldn't last a day on the streets of Brooklyn. As a character, he's accepted principally for the company he keeps, a beautiful young woman. See Austin disgust her. Surprise her. Turn her on. How entertaining, particularly when they walk about the hotel room naked except for well-placed body part substitutes.

Even Powers fans prefer Dr. Evil, whose character is less obnoxious and more subtle. I prefer Dr. Evil as well, but not so much as to proclaim the film's redemption. I like the fact that he seems confused and feels misunderstood. But he wears out his welcome fast, such as his speech extolling his abused childhood, the purpose of which is apparently to mock those who actually were abused as children and have made the decision to reveal it.

Does he want to bond with his son Scott, or kill him? Is Scott normal, and if so, why is he so eager to kill Austin? In any event, Dr. Evil works best as a sight gag, which isn't a good thing for the film's best character.

Entertaining in a puerile manner, Austin Powers thrives independent of both scrutiny and maturity. So be it. Let Americans watch bad television and mediocre moves, and enjoy them. But forgive me for wanting something more.