”It’s my happening, baby, and it freaks me out!” barks Mike Myers with swoony abandon as Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. That about sums the movie up. Recasting the most egregious style crimes of the mid-’60s as innocent chic, Powers channels Help!, The Avengers, go-go girls, ”swinging” brass-and-flute soundtrack music, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (as in the quote above), Elvis-movie dream-date montages, Blow-Up, and, of course, pre-Roger Moore James Bond films.
Above all, Austin Powers has it in for James Bond parodies. In fact, if you rent the film with any of the three most well-known Bond goofs — 1965’s Our Man Flint, 1966’s The Silencers, and 1967’s Casino Royale — you’ll be surprised at how specifically and lovingly Myers (who also scripted Powers) lays them in their graves.
The key difference is the earlier movies may spoof the plot conventions of Bond films — the high-tech toys, the freakish hitmen — but they take the era’s bachelor-pad hedonism at face value. Our Man Flint, for example, is probably the best of the subgenre (and miles better than its sequel, 1967’s In Like Flint): Superspy James Coburn’s deductive skills (he can locate the exact restaurant in Marseilles where a dart-blowing assassin had his last bouillabaisse) and techno-savvy (his cigarette lighter has 83 weapons attachments) are exaggerated just enough to be engagingly silly. But Flint’s team of nightie-clad ”assistants” is such a Playboy After Dark fantasy that a ’90s viewer can only howl when he rescues them from brainwashing by whispering in their ears ”You are not a pleasure unit” (they immediately revive, squeal with happiness, and kiss him).
Pop anthropologists will note that Austin Powers swipes its subterranean doomsday drill straight from Our Man Flint, not to mention the scene where the hero kills a random bad guy by running him over with a construction vehicle (a forklift in Flint, a steamroller, crawling along, in Powers). What Myers seems to have lifted from The Silencers, the first and least dreadful of the four Dean Martin ”Matt Helm” movies, is the hero’s sexual ease in the face of his palpable physical ickiness. The evil-mastermind plot (here it’s fey Victor Buono, pointing a missile at Alamogordo) is beside the point; the main event is watching a flabby, disinterested Dino leer at characters with names like Lovey Cravesit (and it gets weirder: Cyd Charisse, of all people, has a dance number wearing a multi-phallic outfit that could have been designed by Sigmund Freud and David Lynch over a bottle of absinthe).
Still, The Silencers is more watchable than Casino Royale, the sort-of-official Bond parody (based on the one Ian Fleming novel producer Albert ”Cubby” Broccoli didn’t own) that drowns a zillion guest stars in lysergic plotting and visual go-go effects. It starts well, with David Niven playing the original Bond as a stuttering bore; his replacement (Peter Sellers) is a vapid dandy; and his nephew, Jimmy Bond (Woody Allen), is, well, Woody Allen. But by the time the U.S. cavalry comes to the rescue — literally — Casino has long since traded sense for trippy sensation.
Somehow, Austin Powers manages both. The movie’s great joke is that it catches the casual sexism of the Bond genre and plays with it like a cat with a ball: Austin, the cryogenically frozen espionage agent from swinging London gets thawed out in 1997 and can’t understand where the party has gone. ”As long as people are still having promiscuous sex with many anonymous partners without protection while at the same time experimenting with mind-expanding drugs in a consequence-free environment, I’ll be sound as a pound,” he grins, and in the wonderful silence that follows, you can hear yourself mulling the distances a culture can travel in 30 years.
Myers also plays the villainous Dr. Evil — imagine Ed Sullivan trapped in Donald Pleasance’s body — and both characters keep stumbling over time-capsule incongruities, like trying to play a CD on a portable record player. But it’s Austin’s fatuous insistence on the ”shagadelic” wonders of free love that provides the biggest laughs and that, thanks to Mike Myers’ inherent sweetness, eventually comes to seem a gentle criticism of our own uptight ’90s. Somewhere, in some fictional hot tub, Derek Flint, Matt Helm, and James Bond are raising their glasses in brotherhood. Austin Powers: B+ Flint: B Silencers: C- Casino Royale: D-