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Son of a Pitch

The "Mad" magazine mind-set of the "Austin Powers" sequel proves perfect for selling everything from airplane tickets to beer.

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There's the rub: Austin Powers (Mike Myers) with Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham) in The Spy Who Shagged Me.  

The opening crawl for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me is a takeoff on the one from the Star Wars movies, and other Lucas-aimed jokes keep popping up. The film builds its Phantom Menace counterprogramming status right into the material, which may make it something of a marketing first. It also loads up the usual commercial tie-ins: not only for Heineken and Bob's Big Boy and Virgin Atlantic Airways, which features Austin Powers in its billboards, but, conspicuously, for Starbucks, which functions in the movie as a cash cow for Powers's nemesis, Dr. Evil, who once again plans to take over the world. In this much ballyhooed sequel to Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, there's a lot more flogging than shagging going on.

The original 1997 film did only moderately well in theaters but has turned out to be a continuing smash on the video circuit, largely because kids are tickled by Mike Myers's fur-ball, snaggletoothed kookiness in the same way they might be with a favorite daytime cartoon character -- except Austin's a little lewder than a Smurf. Although Austin Powers, with its suave spies and flower-power psychedelia, sent up swinging-sixties camp, the spoofing in the new movie is far more self-referential. The Spy Who Shagged Me is less about the Bond movies and In Like Flint and Carnaby Street and more about all the Austin Powers crotchets and catchwords. We're treated to a dazzling array of doo-doo jokes, some of which are quite funny and all of which are exceptionally tasteless, as well as lots of obesity gags and cleavage comedy. The British music hall, of course, has a tradition of this sort of thing, and Mike Myers has never been given enough credit (or blame) for revamping that tradition. Still, a closer heritage here would be Mad magazine and junior-high-school bathroom graffiti.

Myers is pretty consistently hilarious as Austin Powers -- he's one of those characters, like Peter Sellers's Inspector Clouseau -- who makes you laugh before he even opens his mouth, and then tops that laugh when he does. (For kids, Powers's instant-recognition factor might be a form of pop-cult connoisseurship.) But there's too much Dr. Evil this time, and there's also a third Myers creation, a behemoth Scots spy, who didn't do much for me, and a mini Dr. Evil (Verne Troyer), who would seem more at home in a David Lynch movie. Heather Graham is decorative but disappointingly bland as CIA agent Felicity Shagwell. On the other hand, you won't want to miss Rob Lowe, as a younger version of Dr. Evil's second-in-command, doing a letter-perfect imitation of Robert Wagner. Who'd have thought that bland-on-bland could have this many levels?


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