For all the people who ever wondered what happened to those swinging spies of the 1960s, there is “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” to provide the answer. An all-stops-out spoof, this is one of the goofiest movies to come down the pike in a long time. A loving paean to Bond, Flint, Helm and their ilk (as well as a myriad of outlandish villains), the film knows its turf and only missteps when it ventures into more contemporary territory. The odd mix of sophisticated and lowbrow humor should score theatrically, at least as well as last year’s “Spy Hard,” with strong subsequent ancillary action.
The mythic Powers (Mike Myers) is a bespectacled, mop-topped, fruggin’ Carnaby Street-tailored agent who seems familiar, even if the archives have failed to turn up earlier screen outings. He calls women “baby” and is the height of fashion in a series of unnaturally colored crushed velvet suits.
Back in 1967, he went toe to toe with Dr. Evil (also Myers), the bald, scarred criminal uberboss with more than a passing resemblance to Bond arch nemesis Ernst Blofeld. He even has a lap cat called Mr. Bigglesworth. However, just as Powers is about to settle the score once and for all, the good doctor jumps into a cryogenic chamber and hurtles into space to be thawed out at some later date.
Not to be outdone, the British secret service also puts their operative into deep freeze. Thirty year later, Evil returns and the process of thawing the 000-agent begins. Not surprisingly, both men are hopelessly out of date and therefore perfect adversaries.
The tough assignment confronting “Austin Powers” is keeping an essentially one-joke premise lively and compelling. To the filmmakers’ credit, they have a game sensibility in which no joke old or new is too arcane to trot out. Parody is its long suit, but it also draws comic inspiration from such diverse sources as French farce, slapstick, the Marx Brothers and “Dumb and Dumber.”
Back in action, Powers is teamed with Vanessa Kensington (Elizabeth Hurley), the daughter of his former partner. But despite her briefings, he’s slow to catch on to the fact that the era of casual sex and psychedelia is long gone, replaced by commitment and equality.
The pinkie-sucking Dr. Evil has dilemmas of a very different sort. In his absence, his legitimate company has grown to a $1 billion-plus multinational thanks to administrator Number Two (Robert Wagner), while its terrorist activities have become loss leaders. Evil also returns to the news that he has a twentysomething son who’s not particularly interested in carrying on the family line. The doctor is so desperate to connect he resorts to group therapy sessions rather than go the traditional torture route to resolve the problem.
In the midst of these personal travails the tale barrels along with the hijack of missiles and the demand for $100 billion not to use them. There are zaftig sirens, newfangled gizmos, disco segues and a barrage of humorous nods to situations and characters from the heyday of secret agents on celluloid.
Tyro feature director Jay Roach makes a splashy, impressive debut with “Austin Powers.” His sense of timing is generally adroit, as evidenced by a fiendishly clever sequence that cleverly hides “the naughty bits” and a hilarious dinner table sequence with all the principals.
Myers, pulling multiple duty, gets a real workout playing both the title role and his arch enemy. Both have a childish, endearing charm, with the impishly buoyant Powers recalling the toothsome Tommy Steele.
The strong supporting cast connects perfectly with the material, with Hurley displaying a true penchant for comedy. Pic’s a wonderful rogue’s gallery populated by the likes of vets Wagner, Michael York, a deft cameo from Carrie Fisher and bright turns from screen newcomers Fabiana Udenio and Mindy Sterling.
Inventively lensed in widescreen by Peter Deming, the melange of styles has a visual cohesion that’s best described in the Austin Powers superlative “shagadelic.” The picture definitely lives up to its promise of being smashing, groovy, baby.