When Austin Powers was nothing but a ripple in Mike Myers’ mojo, the Canadian Timmy Mallet protégé (look it up) was already a dyed-in-the-wool genius to my addled teenage mind.
Wayne’s World was perhaps the teen-comedy of my generation (I still pity those that got American Pie or, God help them, Scary Movie in comparison) and So I Married An Axe Murderer was a hideously underrated follow-up concept that I had devoured on many an evening. Both were blessed with amazingly quotable dialogue, outrageously squint-and-you-know-someone-kinda-like-that caricatures and – very importantly – awesome soundtracks (the use of the Boo Radley’s cover of The La’s’ There She Goes on the opening sequence of Axe Murderer is still one of my favourite here-comes-a-good-time-feeling film moments).
The thing is, I was easily pleased as a teenager – ask my first couple of girlfriends…
Austin Powers has all those elements too. It is the essence of Mike Myers’ comedy mind on celluloid, but ten years on, watching it is somewhat akin to eating candyfloss. It’s a massive treat, and the best thing you’ve ever tasted for about the first five mouthfuls – but then ultimately unsatisfying.
Myers’ humour is also like candyfloss, tied up with great memories: somehow seeming synonymous with nostalgia for a time when things were zany, fun and something of a blur. Austin Powers can provide exquisite five minute blasts of hilarity on more than a few occasions across its running time, but little more.
The word ‘genius’ is thrown around far too easily in general – but not least on the extras that are included in this new 2-Disc 10th Anniversary release of International Man of Mystery. To my mind, it takes a lot more than a dodgy set of teeth, a whole range of astoundingly bad accent-atures and a penchant for petomanery to hold that title… Heck, if it did, I’d hold a doctorate in something by now.
The bottom line is, Mike Myers doesn’t ‘do’ pathos – or even serious really – for more than a nanosecond at a time in this movie. Therefore, we’re left with no dark to balance the light of Austin Powers’ humour, nothing solid with which to identify and empathise with. It is humour spread wide and thin, realised in garish colours, chrome and tin foil. A series of seaside postcard sized laughs disguised as a movie.
I’ve felt like a horrendously crap but ultimately well meaning dork like Wayne. Many of us have been doused in artistic self-importance and racked by doubt and paranoia like Charlie McKenzie. But a misogynistic anachronism living out of his proper time? Er no… Well, not yet… Maybe.
At the risk of sprinkling this review with even more of the confetti created by my arch pretensions, I think that – for the more discerning viewer – the humour of the 60s spy genre is pretty self-evident in the original material; the ludicrousness, misogyny, improbability and horrible inevitability of it all is right there in for us in any viewing of the Martin, Coburn, Connery and Moore films from which Myers mines his material. It is, to a large extent, why we all still love them now. And this film falls some way short of the way Woody Allen, Steve Martin and Mel Brooks took on Casablanca, Film Noir, Universal Horror and the wonderfully over-serious westerns of the Hollywood Studios. It even falls someway short of Bond skiing off a mountain before opening his Union Jack parachute.
Austin Powers, conceptually, never reached the levels of humour inherent in the material it parodies. And therein lies its problem; pinned to a comedic idea that isn’t actually as funny as it thinks it is, it’s a film forced to fall back on slapstick – unfortunately, it does it to mixed levels of success. Having said that, when I’m in the mood, I love a good fart joke or piss-take as much as the next bloke – and that’s a fair bit, I’d reckon.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade, you’ll essentially know what you’re getting with Austin Powers, and thus with this edition of the movie – because there’s nothing less, but little more. Consequently, the paper-thin concept that Myers has since carried through two sequels on the back of his bravura performances is reflected in the additional content the discs provide.
There’s really nothing here of much substance, truth be told; an entertaining, but ultimately fairly inane commentary by Myers and director Jay Roach, being the highlight. This does offer some insight into the nature of the production, the schedules and the relatively low-budget nature of the project – but it mostly consists of Myers ribbing his pal (a man that would go on to create the ‘masterpiece’ that is Meet The Parents and its sequel, let us not forget) for trying to add some sort of reasoning to many of their decisions. It serves well as a diversion, but little else.
Disc two is, ironically, a real joke: featuring a cobbled together documentary with unfortunately fawning interviews from some of the very talented people making up the supporting cast and crew. Tacked to this are a few hastily cobbled together biogs on the stars, but special mention for naffness goes to a ‘Cameos’ section, which horribly re-packages scenes that you’ve just watched in a ‘I don’t really need to be told this, I noticed it was Tom Arnold’ kinda way. And which miserably failed to answer my ‘Was that Naomi Watts behind the magazine in the opening sequence?’ query.
There are also a few deleted scenes (the most interesting of which is the truly bad ‘original ending’), and the film’s promos and trailers added in to pad the package out, but we see nothing of the extensive improvisation that is constantly mentioned and effused about in the film’s commentary and by those involved in the film, and this is a real shame. A chance to glimpse at the comedy process, the way the film was shaped, and the versions of well-known skits that didn’t make the cut may have added something really meaningful to repeated viewing experiences. However, this was not to be – and instead we’re left to ponder the lasting cultural significance of the phrases ‘yeah baby’ and ‘shagadelic’, which brings me back to where I started.
On that level, in terms of quote-ability and gonzo fun, Mike Myers is one of the best, and maybe that’s enough. Here, the movie is presented with great sound and picture quality, as was, as is, preserved for occasional brain draining blowouts. And maybe that’s enough too. Try not to smile when the first blast of Quincy Jones’ Soul Bossa Nova explodes from your speakers during the opening sequence, or the first time that little finger is raised to the corner of the mouth, or to the ‘shush’ sequence, or Neil Malarky’s cameo with the penis pump, or Myer’s hilarious Dr. Evil backstory improv… Go on, try…
But then try sitting through the film twice in a day. Try doing that and not harbouring homicidal intentions towards Liz Hurley… Go on, try.
For sheer Teenage Kicks, Austin Powers was, and is, great. It’s a shame I’m not a teenager anymore, when being in on the joke was enough to earn my loyalty and respect. Sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I had died before I got old.