The 90s On Netflix: Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
Mark Harrison | On 10, May 2019
Director: Jay Roach
Cast: Mike Myers, Heather Graham, Verne Troyer, Seth Green, Mindy Sterling
Watch Austin Powers 2 online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Do you remember the 1990s? Mark does. On Fridays, he flashes back to the golden decade of our childhood. From family-friendly films to blockbusters we shouldn’t have been watching, get ready for a monthly dose of nostalgia, as we put down our VHS tapes and find out whether the 90s on Netflix are still Live & Kicking.
Summer 1999 was supposed to belong to Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. But a few weeks after George Lucas’ disappointing prequel was released in the United States, the focus shifted to another, more unlikely franchise entry that stole the top spot at the US box office – Mike Myers’ Bond spoof sequel, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
In its opening weekend, the sequel outstripped the entire worldwide theatrical gross of its predecessor, 1997’s International Man Of Mystery, which had developed into a word-of-mouth hit on home video. From its cheeky teaser trailer to its various jabs at 007’s own dalliances in science fiction, this is a film that saw Star Wars coming and made itself into highly lucrative counter-programming.
As another outlet for Myers’ raging Anglophilia, the sequel picks up with his swinging super-spy battling Dr. Evil (also Myers) in the 1960s. Having travelled back in time and employed a rogue agent called Fat Bastard (Myers again) to steal Austin’s (heavy finger quotes) “mojo”, Dr. Evil plots to turn the moon into a “Death Star”. Suffering from diminished confidence, Austin teams up with American agent Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham) to save the world.
While the film undeniably sparked a cultural moment at the time, comedy fans may not look back on this with fondness. Inspired as much by Benny Hill, Carry On, and The Beatles’ movies as they are by Bond, all of the Austin Powers movies have a certain enjoyable cringe factor that’s more about slapstick and gross-out humour than it is about its reference points.
While the second instalment strays massively from what makes the first film so good, it’s arguably at its best when showing its influences. For instance, the real punchline to the bonkers opening sequence, in which Elizabeth Hurley’s Vanessa is written off as a fembot, comes when Basil Exposition (Michael York, on scene-stealing form) replies “Yes, we knew all along sadly”, and it’s never mentioned again. While the film revels in broader, dafter gags, that’s the sort of absurd observation of Englishness that brings the house down.
In terms of spoofing Bond, the sequel doubles down on You Only Live Twice as the main touchstone, although the hilariously over-extended Robin Swallows gag (“Why won’t you die?!”) is a pitch-perfect parody of a similar scene in Thunderball. Modestly budgeted and endlessly potty-minded, there’s very little that’s big or clever about this, but as we say, there are inspired moments. This is the point where the series leans much harder on repulsive scatological jokes, usually involving Myers’ truly grotesque Fat Bastard. The less disgusting sight gags mostly revolve around Dr. Evil’s 1:8 scale clone Mini-Me (Verne Troyer). While this kind of one-joke character isn’t uncommon in the Bond films, you ideally want characters in a comedy to have more than one joke about them.
More than the first film, the sequel feels less like a feature and more like an array of Saturday Night Live Austin Powers sketches strung together by catchphrases and high concepts. There’s also a creeping improvisational factor that drags out many of the jokes. Graham is the biggest casualty of this approach, because she’s neither the straight woman nor a larger-than-life character, and seems to be utterly marooned. In the sketchy tradition, Myers pulls triple duties here, but Dr. Evil remains his best, funniest comic creation. Even with a hit-and-miss rate that’s on par with the rest of the film, the villain still gets all the biggest laughs. From assaulting Jerry Springer during an emotional reunion with his son, Scott (Seth Green), to bullying Number 2 (Rob Lowe, nee Robert Wagner) with a giant inflatable globe, he’s always the most entertaining character on screen.
It’s a sequel that no one was expecting at the time, which may be why The Spy Who Shagged Me picks up a few bad habits. It’s baggy, over-reliant on poop jokes, and frankly ill-disciplined in comparison to either the first film or to 2002’s Goldmember (which gets a significant leg-up from its new cast members), but it’s fun all the same – an endlessly quotable time capsule of a movie that has moments of comic brilliance.
Next Time on The 90s On Netflix…
“Do you want a Happy Meal? Can I get you one of those Happy Meals? You got a Happy Meal? Can we get a Happy Meal? WILL SOMEBODY GET THE KID A HAPPY MEAL?!”
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.