Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) / Comedy-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for nudity, sex-related dialogue and humor
Running Time: 94 min.
Cast: Mike Myers, Elizabeth Hurley, Michael York, Robert Wagner, Mimi Rogers, Seth Green, Fabiana Udenio, Mindy Sterling, Charles Napier, Will Ferrell, Monet Mazur (cameo), Clint Howard (cameo), Burt Bacharach (cameo), Tom Arnold (cameo), Lois Chiles (cameo), Carrie Fisher (cameo), Susanna Hoffs (cameo), Rob Lowe (cameo), Cheri Oteri (cameo), Christian Slater (cameo)
Director: Jay Roach
Screenplay: Mike Myers
Review published January 23, 2002
Here's a film that's grown on me over the years. My initial review of this film knocked it for being lesser in terms of humor than its two sequels, but in retrospect, much of the impetus for laughs for The Spy Who Shagged Me and Goldmember rely on the gags one remembers from this first entry in the series, so in truth, this is the best of the three for sheer ingenuity, if not total belly laughs. That's not to say that it's a great comedy by any means, but it is often funny and clever, and definitely is worthy of revisiting from time to time for its contagious silliness that might lift your spirits on those days when you need a quick pick-me-up.
Austin Powers (Myers, So I Married an Axe Murderer) is a womanizing hipster British fashion photographer and super-spy from the late 1960s. His nemesis is the bald, scarred Dr. Evil (also played by Myers), who escapes Powers' capture by having himself cryogenically frozen and left to drift in space. Not to be outdone, Powers also puts himself on ice, pending Dr. Evil's inevitable return. Thirty years later, both are sprung from their deep sleep, only to find the world a much different place than the swinging 60s world they left behind. Dr. Evil immediately calls together the old group in order to resume his plans for world domination, with a plot to send a nuclear bomb directly into the Earth's core that will cause all of the world's volcanoes to erupt simultaneously -- that's if Austin Powers and his new sidekick, Vanessa Kensington (Hurley, Permanent Midnight), don't get to him first.
At its core, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery is an amiable spoof of many 1960s spy flicks, most notably the early James Bond series (Dr. Evil is a direct spoof on the Bond series' Ernst Stavro Blofeld), plus the Bond knock-offs like Matt Helm, Modesty Blaise, and Derek Flint. It also dollops a great deal of the European hipster classics like Blow-Up, A Hard Day's Night, Valley of the Dolls, The Thomas Crown Affair, and several others, as well as a sampling of the style from British TV variety shows, including, most notably, "The Benny Hill Show". Not that you really need to be familiar with any of these things in order to find them funny, as most of the humor is generated by the sight gags and sheer absurdity of the characterizations and situations more so than in its satirization of the dated spy flicks of yesteryear.
The film delivers more than enough solid chuckles to make it a worthwhile romp for people in the mood for an inherently silly farce. If does have a higher miss-to-hit ratio than one might recall when remembering the film after viewing. When the gags come at you with this amount of frequency, some duds are bound to be in the mix, particularly since the film is so ambitious in scope that the target audience will most likely not get several of the jokes. It is, after all, lampooning films that the vast majority of filmgoers today will be completely unfamiliar with.
Although Man of Mystery looks cute and innocuous from outward appearances, parents should probably be aware that much of the humor stems from penis, breast and bathroom function variety. Your tolerance for this brand of humor will go hand in hand with your overall enjoyment of the film, so unless you're in tune with Myers' penchant for incessantly sophomoric gags and double entendres, you're going to be in for a bit of a shock.
While this first entry has gone on to become a sort of comedy classic among many, those uninitiated to its unique brand of humor should be warned that it is very scattershot in delivery, offering a great deal of energy, color, and irreverence, but Myers and director Jay Roach aren't always in command, allowing some gags to drag on a bit longer than the punch lines necessitate. Myers would find his comedic footing to a much more assured degree in the two sequels to follow, which, if you thoroughly enjoy International Man of Mystery, are essential viewing for all viewers with juvenile tastes.
©2002, 2007 Vince Leo