Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery (review)

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Warning: Consume with Alcohol

Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery (starring Mike Myers, Elizabeth Hurley, Michael York, Robert Wagner) may be a movie best seen with a large group of somewhat drunk — or at least goofy — people. I watched the video stone sober and curled up on the couch with no one but the cats for company, and I think I may have missed the full experience.
Austin Powers tries to be a kind of Hard Day’s Night meets The Avengers meets James Bond. Mike Myers plays Britain’s top secret agent in swinging 1960s London who is cryogenically frozen and revived in the late 90s to battle his nemesis Doctor Evil (also played by Myers) once again. Michael York and Robert Wagner send themselves up as, respectively, Austin’s boss Basil Exposition and Doctor Evil’s number-two man, Number Two. Elizabeth Hurley is the gorgeous babe.

Most of the humor is fairly obvious, and bathroom humor is rampant — you’ll also find every variety of penis joke here (Myers, who also wrote the screenplay, is obviously obsessed with his own genitalia). There are a few funny sequences that involve the naked Myers and Hurley wandering around with props appearing in strategic positions before them. But I’m sure even these sequences would have been funnier, maybe even uproarious, through a drunken haze or with a group of giddy friends or, preferably, both.

Austin Powers makes much of the contrast between the 60s and the 90s, and it is simultaneously hilarious and sobering to realize how much has changed in 30 years. Austin is startled to find a Russian soldier in the Ministry of Defence facility where he is defrosted — and even more surprised to learn that the capitalists beat the socialists in the end. Doctor Evil has gone capitalist, too. Evil has also been on ice since the 60s, but in the meantime Number Two has turned his organization into a multibillion-dollar corporation. So Doctor Evil’s plan to extort the princely sum of 1 million dollars from the UN is made all the more quaint and pointless — power is money in the 90s, and Evil’s already got all he could ever want.

Austin Powers is the same kind of wide-eyed innocent that Wayne “Wayne’s World” Campbell was, and it’s a character that Myers plays convincingly — Austin is as cluelessly charming as Wayne. But the problem with Austin Powers is that the things it’s parodying — Beatles and Bond movies and all those secret-agent TV shows of the 60s — were already so tongue in cheek that one needs to go a lot further than this movie goes to really amuse me. Austin Powers left a funny taste in my mouth that could only be alleviated by application of some old episodes of The Prisoner and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

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