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Review: Retro funk of 'Austin Powers' blitzed by thin script

May 6, 1997
Web posted at: 9:31 a.m. EDT (1331 GMT)

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- During the first ten minutes, it seemed like Mike Myers' new spoof, "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery," was going to be that rarity of rarities -- a dumb comedy that's smarter than it lets on. Myers plays the title character, an absurdly "swinging" British secret agent who is cryogenically frozen in 1967, then defrosted 30 years later in an attempt to track down his arch nemesis, the malevolent Dr. Evil (also played by Myers).

My hopes were piqued by the realization that this isn't really a mock James Bond film at all. Myers (who also wrote the script) is poking fun at second rate spy films from the '60s and '70s, stuff like "Matt Helm" or "Our Man Flint." Those were the ones that confused Nehru jackets with worldliness and a washed-up Dean Martin with painfully hip virility. Even the tinny rock-n-roll in these movies sounded like it was conjured up by that guy in "The Graduate" who tried to ply Ben with a future in "plastics."

Incredibly, I started laughing during "Austin Powers'" credit sequence, which turns into a mod, "Shindig"-like dance number through the heart of London during the Summer of Love. The costumes are a scream, looking like a psychedelic cross-pollination of Bob Mackie and Peter Max, and director Jay Roach has a good time aping the brightly colored, zoom-in, zoom-out visual style of a million bad '60s films.

The simple fact of the matter is that chicks dig Austin Powers because he's groovy, Baby, and pretty soon they're chasing him through the streets like he's a fifth Beatle. Myers always has a flair for frantic physical comedy, so I was preparing for something approaching a good time. My optimism turned out to be unfounded, of course. Aside from that first 10 minutes, "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" is, to put it politely, disappointing. Oh, what the heck, let me put it unpolitely and say it stinks.

Think how many other movies starring former "Saturday Night Live" cast members can be described the same way. There's a reason for this, and I'll bet everybody in America except for those cast members already knows what it is. Simply put, a movie is not a skit. A skit is a skit (I hope you're writing this down). A movie is a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, with characters that play off of each other and maybe even grow a little bit by the time the whole thing is over. That's not asking too much, really. Just MAKE A MOVIE! THAT'S WHY THEY GIVE YOU ALL THAT MONEY!

The problem is that "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" flashes just enough amusing moments to create the illusion (in a 30-second promo) that it actually is a movie. The gaudy set design, full of leopard skin and shag carpeting, is hysterical; Myers looks patently ridiculous in his Carnaby Street duds and yellowing British dental work; and Elizabeth Hurley stakes her claim as the sexiest human being on earth. So far, so good, but "so far" is all you get. Myers and Roach haven't created the best commercial comedy of the year, they've created the best comedy commercial.

Clip: "Great blocking"
22 sec / 851k
QuickTime movie

Entire movie trailer
2:11 / 4.8M
QuickTime movie
"Living dangerously"
3 sec / 30k WAV or AIFF

"It's a man, baby!"
3 sec / 30k WAV or AIFF

"Yeah baby, yeah!"
2 sec / 21k WAV or AIFF

Which brings us back to Mike Myers. Austin Powers, like Wayne, is a great concept, and I'm sure Myers had a swell time playing him, but must also know that this script is lousy. I argue about this all the time with people who say that I'm asking for too much, that I should be able to enjoy a lame-brained comedy for what it is.

Well, there was a time when a lame-brained comedy could be the verbal interplay of the Marx Brothers in "Duck Soup" or the elegant slapstick of Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in "Bringing Up Baby." I know those two are classics, but think about it. Do we really have any comic actors (or screenwriters) around today who could get within shouting distance of that kind of semi-logic, that kind of relentless, truly inspired lunacy?


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