Principal Cast : Mike Myers, Elizabeth Hurley, Robert Wagner, Seth Green, Mindy Sterling, Michael York, Fabiana Udenio, Will Ferrell, Mimi Rogers, Joe Son, Paul Dilon, Charles Naiper, Elya Baskin, Clint Howard, Tom Arnold, Carrie Fisher, Burt Bacharach.
Synopsis: A world-class playboy and part-time secret agent from the 1960s emerges after thirty years in a cryogenic state to battle with his nemesis Dr. Evil.
Few films hit with the pop culture zeitgeist quite like Mike Myers’ original spy-spoof classic, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. A lightweight, easygoing pastiche of 60’s British genre films, primarily a James Bond-esque parody, the first Austin Powers flick ended up being a mild-to-moderate box office success back in 1997, before it became a cult classic on the then nascent DVD market of the time, the popularity of which saw producing studio New Line Cinema green-light a sequel only two years later. With a multitude of quotable lines, copious innuendo and a boatload of Meyers’ kooky wit in the screenplay, International Man of Mystery remains an indelibly 90’s film and a bona fide classic in almost every respect.
Kooky London playboy and part-time international
spy man of mystery Austin Powers (Myers) thwarts a plan by arch-nemesis Dr Evil (also Myers, in a dual role) in the late 60’s, and then freezes himself for thirty years, awakening in 1997 to once more battle the bald-headed menace when he awakens from his own cryogenic slumber. Adjusting to life in the modern era, Powers meets fellow spy Vanessa Kensington (Elizabeth Hurley) and is tasked by MOD boss Basil Exposition (Michael York) to tracking down his enemy through one of his employees, Alotta Fagina (Fabiana Udenio), to unravel his masterplan of destroying the world with liquid hot mag-ma. Dr Evil isn’t without his own allies, however, with the eyepatch-wearing Number 2 (Robert Wagner), fascistic Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling) and Irish assassin Paddy O’Brien (Paul Dillon) working for him.
With its admirably straight-faced charm, International Man of Mystery remains as fun and enjoyable now as it did in 1997, and even 1998 when it made its debut on home video and catapulted itself into a major success for New Line. Until it released on DVD, International Man of Mystery was not a major box office success (certainly not in international markets), and it certainly didn’t earn enough at the box-office to warrant a sequel: one of the first major releases on DVD to make more in the home market than in cinemas, New Line sought to cash in on Myers’ popular character and demanded a follow-up, eventually released as Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, only two years later.
The film trades heavily on Myers’ wry humour, a setpiece driven feature from which many a gag was derived, notably skewering the then increasingly silly James Bond movies (Goldeneye released in 1995, the first Bond outing for Pierce Brosnan which was acclaimed as a more “serious” instalment, but Austin Powers’ first feature trades heavily off the flower-power 60’s aesthetic and Roger Moore’s films early over-the-top production values. Dr Evil is obviously based on the Donal Pleasance character from Bond, Bloefeld, while Elizabeth Hurley appears as Powers’ sexy yet smart and altogether with-it female partner, mirroring the strong, smart and sexy Bond women of the time as well. The irony of a relatively unattractive man such as Powers, buck teeth and hirsute to the point of disbelief, being such an alluring icon of his 1960’s heyday transposes to a charming, if lowkey fish-out-of-water scenario once the spy arrives in the “present day”. It’s here where the film juxtaposes social acceptances between the two eras cleverly and with only the slightest hint of cynicism, ostensibly treating Powers’ sexually inappropriate behaviour as an anachronistic throwback (which it is/was) while keeping him eminently likeable.
The film also boasts a nice number of star cameos, from the likes of Carrie Fisher as a group therapist to Tom Arnold as a yee-haw cowboy casino patron, whilst supporting roles to the likes of Robert Wagner, as a grumbling Number 2 and Seth Green as Dr Evil’s insolent test-tube son Scott, have some hilarious moments to shine alongside Myers and Hurley. Will Ferrell bobs in for an early screen appearance as the inept henchman Mustafa, sporting a fez and poorly applied blackface makeup, and as is his wont Ferrell provides one of the films early gut-busting moments as his character, thrown down a chute of flame from Dr Evil’s lair, is heard lamenting his injuries and eventual death in a classic overplay. The film highlights the career of songwriter Burt Bacharach, who reprises one of his greatest hits to backdrop Austin and Vanessa’s burgeoning romance, whilst Fabiana Udenio proves a great… er, asset as one of Dr Evil’s beautiful, buxom henchwomen.
One of the hard things to do in comedy is to make it timeless. Few comedians and even fewer cinematic comedians make comedy funny regardless of the time period, and Myers’ work here in Austin Powers is instantly hilarious. The caricatures of the spy genre’s great tropes and cliches work, never feel tired or hackneyed, and with the clever wink to camera at every opportunity Myers elicits a sense of frivolous joy in the hijinks that ensue. A canny soundtrack of delightful songs, some superbly mounted setpieces and legitimately funny dialogue and quotable moments – we all know about “liquid hot maaaag-mah!” don’t we? – ensure that regardless of your age or indifference to the genre this film spoofs, you’ll find some decent chuckles and more than a few belly laughs here. Sure, some of it’s a bit silly – the fembots, sexy android women whose boobs turn into machine guns, are preposterous and serve no purpose at all – but the genteel nature of the laughs is such there’s never a dull moment, even when parts of the film slow to a crawl.
I have to admit, International Man of Mystery is perhaps best watched in a group, because a lot of the laughs don’t quite land as well when you’re seeing them solo, making it a cert for beer-and-pizza movie nights, but with Myers’ winning performances (frankly, Dr Evil is the best thing he’s ever done, even if it’s now been done to death in the sequels), Hurley’s doe eyed sexy Britishness and Robert Wagner’s straight-faced Number 2 perfecting the straight-faced henchman trope dealing with an inept boss, the original Austin Powers remains a winner in my book.