Blame it on lowered expectations if you like, but the new Austin Powers movie seems funnier, cruder, more colorful, and even less plausible than the first. Where the original felt more like a user's manual for a funny movie than the thing itself, The Spy Who Shagged Me exponentially ups the JPMs (jokes per minute)--which is a good thing, since many are of the sluggish, meta-postmodern-submolecular-micro/macro-deconstructionist variety. The rest are either slightly out-of-date pop-culture references (including repeated Jerry Maguire gags); more James Bond/Pink Panther visual parodies; or National Lampoonish shit, tit, prick, anus, and fat jokes. Meanwhile, the costumes and sets provide a Technicolor freakout that'll make you wanna throw on a pink fur bra and vinyl hot pants to make the scene on Brian Jones's arm.
The plot of the sequel hardly matters--a fact that co-screenwriter Mike Myers admits early on. The main thing is that Austin (Myers) is sent back to the Sixties to thwart the latest scheme of Dr. Evil (Myers)--which is pronounced "EEE-vill," of course. Echoing our own bewilderment, Austin asks his boss (Michael York) how it is logically possible to do this without nullifying the events of the previous movie, and possibly this one's as well (not to mention the impossibility of visiting his own cryogenically frozen self in 1969). The boss urges us all to sit back and stop worrying--which comes as a relief after Mission: Impossible pistol-whipped normal people's plot-tracking devices. Besides, it wouldn't be a fantasy if it wasn't a little impossible. I mean, if this guy can shag babes who look like Elizabeth Hurley and Heather Graham, he can bloody well defy the time-space continuum.
Otherwise, the sequel is more weighty than the original, especially in terms of its psychosexual baggage. While the first installment's naughty sexism seemed part of Austin's guileless charm, The Spy Who Shagged Me takes on the character's retrograde attitudes and does them one better by asserting a mean-spirited, decidedly ungroovy aggression. The beginning of the new film sees one woman turned into a robot and then destroyed, and another stabbed, shot, and thrown from a window--for laughs. Even more than the first Austin, this is a movie designed for men to indulge all their (presumed) fantasies about women--and we girls are just along for shits and giggles. (Heather Graham's distaff spy character only poses at ass-kickerhood; she's actually just another fawning Austin groupie.)
Which isn't to say that men get off scot-free. Knowingly or not, The Spy Who Shagged Me is a monument to male insecurity, obsessed with impotence and obsessed with that obsession. (Dr. Evil has stolen the mojo from Austin's popsicle. Literally.) Even aside from its engorged volume of dick jokes, the sequel is, by extension, fixated on the father-son relationship. And I'm not just saying that because I read the recent Rolling Stone cover story in which Myers reminisces at length about his English father, who died of Alzheimer's in 1991 and was the inspiration for Austin Powers. Here Dr. Evil is portrayed as a dad who can't convince his son (Seth Green) to love him. So he takes on a dream child: Mini-Me (Verne Troyer), a diminutive clone who is like him in every way (complete with bald kitty), yet completely subservient.
So is Myers making a weird venture into the very nature of comedy itself (or sequels)? At its most inspired, The Spy Who Shagged Me shoots for the darkness just behind the back panel of its own seemingly banal humor: Jokes are pounded through the point of funniness, into and then beyond unfunniness, ultimately achieving something like nostalgia for the joke as it is being told. Remember the scene in the first episode when Dr. Evil and his henchmen stand around laughing their evil-villain laughs while the camera rolls on and on forever? Remember how they have to keep on laughing until eventually they quiet down, sigh, and then look uncomfortable? Well, that's often what it feels like to watch the new film.
And that's sort of interesting in a way. As the jokes hang and fade luxuriantly in time, meeting themselves en route to the future or the past, Myers plays multiple roles, Austin encounters himself, and the sequel shags its progenitor. Clearly, time is a heavy trip for Austin's creator. In a recent USA Weekend interview, Myers spoke about the roots of comedy as "the realization of your own mortality... You laugh at your own mortality." In light of this, it's really no wonder that he's so preoccupied with children and impotence. But if this death-defying comedy feels like a masturbatory power trip at times, it's also rather tragic and familiar to any mortal. I think if he could, Myers would freeze time itself, catching us all at our most beautiful: that is, in the moment just before the joke dies.