In conceiving and multiply starring in the sequel Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, what Mike Myers does with all the good will he earned with his original of the series, 1997’s spoofadelic Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, is not as important as what he does not do. He does not, for example, parlay the first film’s profits into lavish production values, location sets, and convincing special effects for the second one. Swinging London is still patently mountain-backed Glendale; Dr. Evil’s “time machine” (the quotes are his) is an oversized Pop Art hypnowheel; while careening along the road in his “Shaguar,” the International Man of Mystery stops to point out that what’s cool about the English countryside is how it’s so not like Los Angeles—a sign reading “English Countryside” can be seen against parched hillside scrub.
The Spy Who Shagged Me is not quite as loose and wild as its predecessor, but that was never a possibility—the first one put Myers in the Hollywood pressure cooker for the sequel, opening, as scheduled, in this Star Wars summer of all summers. To a lesser extent, Myers keeps another dangerous impulse in check: the impulse to hog all the characters and indulge himself in every scene. He has spoken in interviews about the vastly improvised script, but it’s clear that no one’s allowed to riff but the star—in any of his three guises.
There’s Austin, of course, velvet-clad swinger of the go-go era and just the character to put Bond and his smooth ilk in the clown dunk booth once and for all. Myers’ genius isn’t just in sending up the genre—from Coburn to Dino, the spy spoof traditionally upped the ante on the genre’s already excessive nature. Its vision of macho suavite was too easy to merely vulgarize; Myers instead imagined that macho suavite was a product of the times and the situation, and set up a test case: What if a dorky guy found himself in those times and that situation, up against an inadequate villain? And what if they both were to lose the cossetting validation of the times and jet to the ’90s, where their assumptions have long been dismissed as dinosaur thinking? How would Austin Powers reclaim his cool, never mind his “mojo”—a pinkish substance that is the essence of his kittenish manliness and the ostensible quest of this film’s plot? By being naive, charming, presumptuous, a little clueless—all in all a bracing antidote to these squishy times.
Which Austin is, although Myers has stacked the deck in his favor by giving himself Heather Graham’s Felicity Shagwell as a sidekick. While deliriously good-looking, Graham doesn’t always seem sure why she’s there, and her game efforts feel detached from the film’s action and spirit. The other essential Myers character, Dr. Evil, is back to his tantrums and pinkie-sucking—it’s Dr. Evil who gets to riff, even during his rat-a-tat-tat spats with son Scott Evil (Seth Green, underused again); the camera stays doggedly on Myers, to very strange effect. Dr. Evil’s other sidekick and Scott’s rival is Mini-Me (Verne Troyer), a 2-foot-8 version of himself complete with scar, little rotating chair, and kitten-sized Mr. Bigglesworth, the hairless cat. Mini-Me is a great idea, and Troyer is marvelous whether aping Dr. Evil’s mincing affectations with beady-eyed dignity or launching himself across the table to strangle Scott, but his part is entirely mute, giving Myers essentially a great sight gag that doesn’t dilute his screen presence one bit. The third Myers character is the already much-lamented Fat Bastard, the baby-eating Scot, who is on his way to being the Jar Jar Binks of the Austin Powers franchise—he’s not funny, not necessary, and really disgusting to look at. The miscalculation in including Fat Bastard in this lighthearted mix is that there’s nothing of Myers in him; the character could have been played by anyone, if Myers thought it so integral to his story.
But so what? Considering the amount of self-indulgence going on on every screen to the left and right of the ones showing Austin Powers, Myers’ occasional misguided romps are nothing. The Spy Who Shagged Me is cheery, raunchy, and absurd, and Myers doesn’t give that lame speech about how now we have freedom and responsibility, baby. His new movie is proof that irresponsibility is freedom, and there isn’t a wackier moment now playing than when Austin, ace fashion photographer, gets his models to emote by directing, “Make an interconnected series of tunnels like the Viet Cong.”
The British movie Get Real is a good-natured but painfully naive teenage coming-out story, basically an after-school special with a higher level of wit and class. Based on Patrick Wilde’s play What’s Wrong With Angry?, the story follows Steven (Ben Silverstone), a chicken-necked anonym who keeps his otherwise freely acknowledged sexuality to himself at school in order to stay out of the way of the hulking jocks, acolytes of campus dreamboat and ace runner John (Brad Gorton), who taunt and rough up the perceived school “fairies.” As Steven is idling an afternoon away in a park washroom, as Steven likes to do, who should pass him an interested note through the stall spy-hole but John?
What follows is a standard push-pull between fear and hesitation on John’s part and prideful encouragement on Steven’s. Wilde’s point—that even in this enlightened age, the trauma of coming out has not abated for teens—is valid and necessary; it’s also what makes the whole affair feel so dated. The furtive lovers snatch their assignations in the shadows while John keeps insisting he’s not gay. The inevitable showdown is to come at the school graduation, where John will be forced to demonstrate his anti-fairy stance to the braying jock crowd (at Steven’s expense) and Steven is scheduled to make a speech. The rest is cut from familiar cloth, down to the character of Linda (Charlotte Brittain), Steven’s best friend and confidante, a sassy but fragile fat girl—the frequent equation of gay men with fat girls being an unpleasant cliche of “tolerance” cinema; there’s something ugly about the assumption of sexual uselessness in them both. Get Real directs its sermon firmly toward the choir, but the young actors are extremely appealing, and it does re-create the humid, sexually charged atmosphere of high school and teen life.
The only thing weirder than John Travolta’s bull-necked impersonation of a good ol’ boy in the first part of The General’s Daughter is James Woods’ entire performance. This unpleasant investigative Army thriller burdens Woods’ character, Col. Moore, with so many quirks, tics, and suspect idiosyncrasies, it’s like hiring Charo to tell jokes in a Yiddish accent. The only clean, understated performance is given by Leslie Stefanson in the title role, and she gets killed almost immediately.
Stefanson plays Elisabeth Campbell; the general is James Cromwell, reprising his L.A. Confidential role as the father figure you’re supposed to trust but don’t. When Elisabeth is murdered in a spectacularly public and ostentatious way, the Army brings in Warrant Officer Paul Brenner (Travolta), a criminal investigator who has the power to probe Army doings without any government interference. His investigation follows the well-worn track: All plot twists send out an advance dog-and-pony show; the first suspect is the next to die; the Army likes to step in after each death and bark that it was remorse-filled suicide, case closed; Brenner keeps casually dropping bombshells on his interrogees as they jerk toward him in shock. The plot is so heavy-breathing, they don’t need to play Carmina Burana on the soundtrack; a character plays it on his stereo. This is an incompetent film with a loathsome premise and a truly revolting attitude toward women—the final message being that covering up a vicious gang rape is bad for women but depicting it, over and over, in flashback and re-creation, from every possible angle and point of view, is good for feminism. CP