Austin's Power Failure

An impotent Powers delivers a flaccid film.

THERE'S A THESIS waiting to be written about how you're not laughing at Mike Myers as much as you are laughing at yourself for laughing so much at this guy who not only trots out the lamest of jokes, he beats them to death, buries them, and dances on their grave. But for this meta-laugh to work, you have to be laughing in the first place—and the jokes are terrible, without the meta-laugh they wouldn't work, but if they don't work, you can't find it funny that you find them funny . . . and that paradox is what makes Mike Myers a comic genius.

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

directed by Jay Roach

starring Mike Myers, Heather Graham

Which is to say, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (the sequel to Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery), is a funny movie. Like the original, it's about an oversexed secret agent with questionable dental hygiene and an abundance of chest hair who fights to keep his archenemy, Dr. Evil (also played by Myers), from taking over the world. In the first film, Powers was revived from cryogenic freezing in the postsexual revolution 1990s; in the sequel, he follows Dr. Evil back to the '60s, where Dr. Evil has stolen his mojo—i.e., his libido, his driving force. He teams up with CIA operative Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham), and the two of them put a stop to Dr. Evil's nefarious plans.

Of course, the plot is little more than an excuse to indulge in any number of terrible jokes and parodies, some revived from the first movie (Dr. Evil still has a troubled relationship with his son) and some freshly minted (Dr. Evil has a miniature clone of himself that he calls Mini-Me, who dresses like Dr. Evil at all times). But even the recycled jokes are funny, because the humor depends on redundancy and repetition in the first place—the movie doesn't tell jokes so much as it wallows in them like a pig in mud.

Curiously, though, while the sequel is probably funnier than the first movie as you're watching it, there's less to laugh about afterwards. The novelty of this whole sensibility sparked the mind before; the second time around, funny though it continues to be, it doesn't stimulate in the same way.

VERY LITTLE IS MADE of the whole stolen mojo business in this film. Myers probably came up with dozens of impotence jokes then threw them all out, noticing, as we do, that the brief bit we get of a flaccid Austin Powers just isn't very funny. Without his narcissistic zip, Austin almost ceases to exist. Similarly, Dr. Evil lavishes affection on his homunculus twin, and Fat Bastard adoringly strokes his own nipples. They not only love themselves, they expect the rest of the world to love them just as much. Heather Graham looks every bit as babelicious in retro wear as the first movie's Elizabeth Hurley looked in future chic, but she fares less well with the humor. Hurley got to play straight to Austin's exuberance, which gave her a distinct role; Graham is supposed to be Austin's equal in let's-get-it-on-ness, but it never flies, and it's not due to sexual double standards. It's due more to what makes Austin and Dr. Evil—and, for that matter, Myers' newest character, an obese Scots guard named Fat Bastard—funny: the fact that they're deeply in love with themselves. Humor often springs from self-loathing; Mike Myers has found the hilarity of self-love. And that's about all it takes to make the rest of the world love him, too.

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