When you watch Mike Myers in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, you remember why he became a star on Saturday Night Live and in Wayne’s World. The hero of this engagingly daft espionage spoof is a twit from swinging London named Austin Powers who also happens to be a James Bond-like supersleuth. With his horn-rims and dirty crooked teeth, his frilly cravat, crushed-velvet jackets, and horrifying psychedelic flares, Austin the jelly-bellied rogue is the geekiest ”swinger” who ever lived. Cryogenically frozen in 1967, he is reawakened in the present day, but really he’s still stuck in the late ’60s, a Carnaby Street wanker nattering on about free love and whipping out his camera with Blow-Up cool to engage in flashy ”seductive” photo shoots. ”I bet she shags like a minx!” he says lasciviously, eyeing a ’90s career woman who thinks he must be insane. The joke of Austin Powers is that in swinging London, even this flamboyant a loser could have fancied himself a stud. Austin is so hip he’s square, so square he’s almost hip.
The comedy of Mike Myers is all about the ecstasy of self-delusion. His characters have no idea what fools they are, and that frees them to be utterly in love with themselves. Austin Powers is, in his way, as witty a creation as the moronically blissed-out Wayne Campbell or Dieter the grimacing Eurosnob from SNL’s beloved ”Sprockets.” Myers, wearing fake teeth that contort his face into a self-infatuated leer (the English counterpart to Wayne’s pie-eyed heavy-metal grin), is in his element here in a way he clearly wasn’t in 1993’s hapless So I Married an Axe Murderer. Still, it’s a trick to build an entire movie around what is essentially an inspired sketch-comedy idea. As a satirical hero, Austin, with his fey cries of ”Oh, be-have,” is so ineffectual he isn’t quite there. He could have used some of Wayne’s winking aggression or, for that matter, the bumbling destructiveness of Leslie Nielsen’s Frank Drebin in the Naked Gun series.
Myers, who also wrote the film, creates only the thinnest pretense of a plot, but he has a good time sending up ’60s-movie cliches. I enjoyed touches like the Hard Day’s Night-esque opening credits, the ”mod” use of split screen, and Austin’s ritual of suavely plucking the wig off a villain who’s disguised as a woman (”That’s a man, baby!”). At the same time, this ZAZ-style spoof gets a little too lost in the ’60s. Lampooning the conventions of Bond thrillers isn’t exactly the cutting edge of satire. Myers, in a dual role, also plays Dr. Evil, a takeoff on the bald, kitty-cat-loving Ernst Stavro Blofeld from You Only Live Twice. This hilariously arch supervillain, who sounds like Norman Mailer on a bender, attends group therapy with his long-lost Gen-X son (Seth Green), and he has a great way of raising his pinkie to his lips with fey delight whenever he thinks he’s gotten off a great line (his best bit: demanding the exorbitant 1967-era ransom of…a million dollars!). Elizabeth Hurley, in the Priscilla Presley babe-sidekick role, has more spunk than you’d expect, and she’s so gorgeous you can see why Austin is head over bellbottoms for her. Austin Powers is an obvious labor of love. When Austin does an awful hip-thrusting frug to the tune of ”I Touch Myself,” you can giggle at the sheer joy Mike Myers takes in making himself as grotesque as possible. A little of this sort of thing goes a long way, but no one does it better than Myers. B