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Austin Powers:

Romy and Michele’s

In a velvet suit erupting snowy ruffles, Mike Myers as Austin Powers leads 100 or so swooning, ponying, and otherwise freaking out extras through a backlot version of Swinging London, dancing and mugging to—what else?—his own theme song. This musical kickoff isn’t plot, but it telegraphically places the movie in time and spirit, and gives the audience a chuckle. With one irksome exception, Myers’ goals for his pet project, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, are similarly modest and good-natured.

Myers grew up on Bond films, parody Bond films like Casino Royale, and parodies of parody Bond films, like James Coburn’s decadent, over-the-top “Flint” series. Even while those films delivered the goods—ominous but unspecific world-threatening devices, evil scientists with all the trimmings, improbable technologies, big-haired females dressed as if they work in a bordello run by Courreges—with a broad wink, they respected certain conventions of the genre. Austin Powers, like 1988’s I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, questions the more frustrating of these conventions to hilarious effect. Part In Like Flint, part What’s New, Pussycat?, part Tom Jones TV special, with a dash of The Thomas Crown Affair, and one small, regrettable part moral edification, Austin Powers is a giddy, ostentatious romp worthy of its Carnaby Street look.

Austin Powers is the guy every man alive in 1967 wants to be, and the one every woman wants to bed. He’s the hip secret agent with an MG painted like a Union Jack. Of course, Myers’ position in the principal role already tilts the film into parody territory. He’s a short guy with thick glasses, an unimpressive body, and obviously fake chest hair, but because all the tags are in place—he’s the kind of hero who’s supposed to attract hordes of screaming women—we believe it. During a showdown with his nemesis, Dr. Evil (also played by Myers), the doctor scurries into his cryogenics booth, concealed inside a Bob’s Big Boy statue, and lifts off. Austin, too, has himself frozen, and 30 years later they are both defrosted to do battle for the soul of the Earth.

Austin is teamed up with Vanessa Kensington (Elizabeth Hurley), the daughter of his former partner, Mrs. Kensington (Mimi Rogers). Kensington fille wears the same leather catsuit Mom used to—the conventions of spy drama gelled in the ’60s, and Emma Peel’s descendants haven’t been able to improve on her look. Austin is unfrozen with all his stylistic quirks intact. He calls Vanessa “baby” and assumes that they’ll be shagging like wild ferrets as soon as he can remove his elaborate velvet-and-ruffles costume.

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Most of the fish-out-of-time stuff is rather well executed. The script doesn’t bother with Austin plumbing the wonder of computers or discovering Baywatch, although he does have a bad moment putting a Byrds CD on a turntable. When he and Vanessa unpack at a Las Vegas hotel, he pulls his trusty little .38 out of his suitcase; she does likewise, puts it aside, then takes out a huge, ultramodern gun with which she is obviously familiar, as Austin’s face melts. It’s clear that she is going to teach him about commitment and respect for women while he is going to loosen her up with his freewheeling ways. Once again, Myers demonstrates his goofy-guy’s talent for charming and amusing beautiful women.

The movie is peppered with great gags and set pieces. Two very funny scenes go to painful lengths to ensure that the audience won’t see any objectionable body parts when Austin and Vanessa wake up nude and begin their day. Sausages, pink balloons, pineapples, and milk servers do the dirty work while the ostensibly unwitting couple chat casually and move about the room. There’s an extended toilet misunderstanding involving Tom Arnold and an Irish assassin with a garrote; at Dr. Evil’s lair, the same assassin needs to be informed of the content of a cereal commercial, explained to him by the wonderful Mindy Sterling as Frau Farbissina, leader of the radical arm of the Salvation Army. And the script goes Pussy Galore one better with the introduction of Italian siren Alotta Fagina—gentlemanly Austin takes elaborate pains to aspirate his “f.” (Another new sight for Austin—she has the fakest-looking breasts this side of mud-wrestling night at the Hollywood Tropicana.)

Austin Powers throws everything it’s got up at the screen, and most of it sticks; even the jokes that flop are admirable tries. Dr. Evil is given a petri-dish son, Scott, who is a normal ’90s teenager unwilling to follow in Dad’s footsteps. They even attend father-son group therapy, where, in an absurd monologue, the doctor recounts his “normal” childhood with a very strange father: “Sometimes he would accuse chestnuts of being lazy. In the spring we made meat hats…” Scott gets to ask the audience’s questions, like why don’t you just shoot your archnemeses now, instead of leaving them in a slow-moving and easily escapable death trap?

Austin Powers’ flaws are also its creators’. Myers is a late baby boomer who doesn’t just think the ’60s were cool, he misses them, or feels he’s missed out. Left alone, Austin makes a list of friends who have died—the usual choked-on-their-vomit rundown—and notes the cause of death. And later, the heroic secret agent makes a tiresome speech about how, far from longing for the licentious past, he loves the ’90s because now we have both freedom and responsibility, baby. A movie this captivated by style should know when to keep quiet and just pose.

If it’s common knowledge that high school is a ghoulish obstacle course of horror and humiliation, how come while you’re going through it everyone keeps telling you that it’s the best time of your life? Just curious. Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion posits its heroines—lifelong best friends Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michele (Lisa Kudrow)—as high-school washouts who want to obliterate those miserable days by claiming success at their 10-year reunion.

As the two flip through their high-school yearbook, photos turn into flashbacks to tell us that Michele wore a back brace for her scoliosis and Romy was chubby, thereby making them favorite targets of the chic school clique. Romy had eyes for Billy (Vincent Ventresca), a vulnerability that his girlfriend, clique leader Christie (Julia Campbell), exploited to painful effect. Ten years later, Romy and Michele are living together in Venice, Calif., when another old classmate, Heather Mooney (Janeane Garofalo), lets slip news of the reunion. Avid to make a new impression on the people who tortured them, the girls decide to dress like businesswomen, claim that they invented Post-Its, and sit back and let the respect and admiration roll in. Heather exposes them inadvertently, and they are forced to earn respect by just being themselves.

But they don’t, really, because a combination of good luck and what appears to be judicious cockteasing wins happiness for Romy and Michele, not their own good qualities, such as trustingness, loyalty, and kindness. Billy has turned into a vain, drunken pig miserably married to again-pregnant Christie, who may not be carrying his child. The class nerd has made a billion dollars but never got over his crush on Michele, so he finances their boutique, no favors required, presumably, and they happily accept, never having said a nice thing to him in their lives. Romy and Michele is darker and more sardonic that it appears to be from the trailers, which misrepresent the movie as a wacky extended blonde joke. Sorvino interprets Romy as a slurring, deep-voiced disco dolly with a minx’s grin, and Garofalo embodies the misery of the dressed-in-black misfit, as well as her lone-wolf strength. Romy and Michele is watchable, interesting, and a little bit unnerving, but it isn’t very funny.CP