It's Awful, Baby, Yeah!

A fine line divides inspired silliness from out-and-out witlessness; it's a short leap from grin from groan. In 1997's Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Mike Myers took a thin premise -- spoof the Sixties by transplanting a horny Matt Helm-like secret agent into the Nineties -- and danced an unsteady watusi along that line. Sure the original was little more than an extended Saturday Night Live sketch filled with bathroom humor and adolescent double entendre, but at least the gags were plentiful. If only one in three were actually funny and the rest merely insipid, that was enough to make the first Austin Powers charming ... in a silly, innocuous way.

If only Myers had left it at that. The sequel, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, kills whatever charm the first movie had by recycling its few serviceable parts (as in, the title sequence reprises the hide-the-naughty-bits gag featured twice in the original) and filling the other 85 or so minutes with a dreary series of celebrity cameos (Tim Robbins as the president?!), product plugs (Virgin Megastore, Philips Electronics), dick jokes, and extended explorations of the humorous side of the bowel. In interviews Myers has said he was surprised that so many people got the laughs in the first Austin Powers, with its insider references to forgettable Sixties spy flicks. (Anyone seen In Like Flint lately?) Yeah, well, we got it the first time, Mike, and it wasn't that funny then. What else you got?

The answer is, not much. The plot this time around essentially duplicates International Man of Mystery. Austin's nemesis, Dr. Evil -- also played by Myers -- creates a time machine that allows him to travel back to 1969 to steal the frozen Austin's mojo, the mysterious force that drives his libido. A flaccid 1999 Austin follows Dr. Evil in his own time machine -- a psychedelic-painted VW Beetle -- to get back his mojo and stop Dr. Evil's plan to hold the world hostage with a giant, moon-based laser. Created by physicist Alan Parsons, the laser is called -- you guessed it -- the Alan Parsons Project.

Of course the story hardly matters in an Austin Powers movie. Neither do the supporting actors, except to provide the bodies to which Myers attaches goofy names (Ivana Humpalot, Robin Spitz Swallows) or to feed Myers's characters the straight lines that allow him to respond with some variation on Yeah, baby, yeah. Heather Graham (Boogie Nights, Lost in Space) plays Austin's sidekick and love interest, CIA agent Felicity Shagwell. The role demands only that she look good in a miniskirt and feign putting things into, and pulling them out of, Austin's rectum. In one interminable gag, she appears to draw a series of objects -- a knotted rope, an umbrella, a can of sleeping gas, even a gerbil -- from his interior. You wait for her to pull out the script for Austin Powers 3. Instead she finds ... a bottle of Heineken.

That's one of two plugs for Heineken in the movie. The other actually lifts the "Don't touch my Heinie" tagline from a beer commercial featuring Myers that began airing well before the movie's release. Which came first: the script for the movie or the commercial? It hardly matters. Looking for product placements gives the audience something to do in the long, stony stretches between laughs. No one stole Myers's comic mojo. He sold it.

And the Heineken plug is hardly the most blatant. That's a tossup between Starbucks -- the coffee company that Dr. Evil runs in the 1990s -- and Chili's. At one point Fat Bastard, Dr. Evil's 500-pound Scottish henchman (played by Myers in a grotesque fat suit), brags that he once ate a baby: "the other other white meat." That leads (don't ask how) to a scene in which Fat Bastard sings the entire Chili's baby-back rib jingle. In 1969. Myers seems to think that using product placement as a punch line makes it okay to sell out -- something, no doubt, to do with laughing all the way to the bank.

The baby on the menu is Mini-Me, Dr. Evil's miniature clone (one-eighth the size, all the evil) played by the two-foot eight-inch-tall Verne Troyer. Watching Troyer mimic Dr. Evil's every gesture or Dr. Evil coo over Mini-Me as though he were a Yorkshire terrier puppy provides two -- and only two -- of Shagged Me's handful of laughs. Unfortunately Myers tries to milk the gag for several dozen. How many times will you chuckle at the sight of a midget flipping a diminutive middle finger? If your answer is more than five, this movie is for you.

This sequel falls way below the fairly low standard set by the first Austin Powers. What's new here is thinner, more predictable, and far more coarse than the first film. (In one scene Austin winds up drinking from a coffee cup filled with diarrhea -- seriously, you can stop laughing now --then leaves his upper lip covered in the brown liquid.) The rest is lifted wholesale from the previous movie; if you liked a gag from the first movie, don't worry, because it shows up four more times in this one.

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