Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

What’s a mad supervillain to do when flower power, free love and groovy vibes make the world an unbearably nice place? Go into cryogenic hibernation, of course, and return when avarice, self-interest and villainy make a comeback. That’s precisely what Dr. Evil does, little knowing that his arch-nemesis, British superspy Austin Powers, international man of mystery, also goes into the deep freeze. Needless to say, both men are a bit behind the times when they’re defrosted 30 years later, in 1997.

That’s the premise behind *Austin Powers*, a giddy, goofy movie that is both a loving paean and a silly send-up of the sixties and that odd and enduring little genre, the British spy movie. Swinging playboy Austin (Mike Myers), boasting a thatch of chest hair that rivals Sean Connery’s hirsute hair suit, suddenly finds himself in a world where bad British teeth and Carnaby Street fashions are no longer in vogue, women don’t like to be called baby, and casual sex has consequences. His partner in spying, Vanessa Kensington (a more than game Elizabeth Hurley), must constantly fend off his politically incorrect advances (\\Let’s shag, baby!\\) while helping him save the world from Dr. Evil. The effete and self-amused Dr. Evil (also played by Myers), faced with monetary inflation and shifting mores, discovers that what passed for villainy in 1967 looks a bit tame in the 90s -- his evil plots include blackmailing the royal family by accusing Charles of adultery, and holding the entire world hostage for a million dollars -- and he has a troubled relationship with his petulant son Scott Evil (Seth Green). While he was frozen, Dr. Evil’s second-in-command Number Two (Robert Wagner) turned his evil empire into a successful international conglomerate, and he would really prefer that the mad villain not mess things up with his crazy schemes for old-fashioned world domination.

Written by Myers, *Austin Powers* is right on target, a good-natured, infectiously funny and minutely-detailed spoof that mimics both the style and substance of 60s spy movies, from the psychedelic fashions to the deadly but sexy, amply endowed villainesses. The manly Austin faces off against Dr. Evil’s team of fembots, armed with retractable guns concealed in their capacious bras, and shags a vixen named Alotta Fagina (Fabiana Udenio), soul sister to Bond girl Pussy Galore. Like any spy movie worth its salt, *Austin Powers* spends time in a casino, too, although this superspy is less adept at blackjack than at swirlies, dispatching a henchman in the men’s room (there’s a fair amount of toilet humor in *Austin Powers*, all of it handled tastelessly, of course).

The set and costume designs are flawless in *Austin Powers*, lovingly accurate recreations of the most outrageous fashions the 60s had to offer (including the madly mod fashions featured in Antonioni’s *Blow-Up* -- Austin is a fashion photographer in his spare time). Likewise, the direction mimics Beatles-era psychedelia, with kooky camera angles, freeze frames, and mad chases. *Austin Powers* also deliciously exploits that mainstay of British comedy -- nudity -- with an elaborate bit of hide-and-peek physical comedy that just barely maintains the movie’s PG rating.

As Austin, Myers is endearingly ridiculous. Like his spy compatriots then and now, Austin is utterly convinced that he is a suave, debonair hipster, an irresistible ladies’ man, an unbeatable superspy. That he is instead an anachronistic neanderthal is as incomprehensible to him as the discovery that Liberace was gay (\\The ladies all loved him. I didn’t see that one coming\\). Of course, superspies, from Bond to Matt Helm, have all been anachronistic neanderthals, and that’s really the point, but Austin’s obliviousness is his charm, and what makes this movie really click -- he has no idea that his snaggle-toothed grin screams out for a good flossing, or that Versace suits have replaced striped hiphuggers and wide, white belts as the couture de riguer of martini-swilling spies. Of course, only the innocent Austin could fully appreciate the naive menace of the Nehru-jacketed Dr. Evil, who devises overly elaborate and easily escapable mechanisms of death, then doesn’t bother to make sure his victims don’t escape because that’s just the way supervillains operate.

*Austin Powers* is a giddily elaborate, but uncomplicated spoof that finds funny fodder in the paradoxical reversals that time has wrought: what passed for freedom and modernity in the sexually-liberated 60s now seems deadly dangerous in the safe-sex 90s, while 60s-style danger (shark-infested pools! predatory females!) is laughably tame in the bullet-riddled 90s. *Austin Powers* pokes fun at the past, but the present-day gets it in the ribs, too. Either way, it’s ticklish fun.