Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.
AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME (1999)
Yeahhhhh. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me continues the story of the titular Sixties superspy (Mike Myers) and his nemesis Dr. Evil (Mike Myers) coping with life in the Nineties. Doing away with the not-technically-time-travel cryogenic freezing plotline and opting for full-on time machines, this round features Austin warping back to his beloved Sixties to stop Evil from stealing his mojo. Is it just as funny when you put the Fish Out of Water back in the water?
Nope. G’night, everybody!
So there’s an admittedly clever scene where Austin begins to question the mechanics of time travel and Basil Exposition (Michael York) tells him and the viewers at home to just enjoy themselves. They’re actively exploiting the Rule of Funny in the least subtle way possible, but there’s a problem here: the rule explicitly only works “if the result gets enough of a laugh.”
“I don’t like where he’s going with this, Austin.”
You might have gotten away with it in the fresh and whip-smart International Man of Mystery, but I’m sorry, Basil… I choose not to enjoy myself.
(Just this time, because I need something to write about. The movie’s got some funny moments, but it’s nowhere near as fine-tuned as the original.)
On to Exhibit A!
The 3rd Rock cockblock.
Austin’s mojo is removed in 1969, and in 1999, he suddenly gets a floppy trouser weasel. This would be a mutable timeline right away, but one the writers apparently think works like Frequency, with the two timestreams linked somehow. But even if you allow for that, the events of the first movie would still be affected by this… including the scene where Austin defeats the fembots with pure uncut sexiness. In short, we now have a dead Austin.
Oh, wait… dammit, Felicity Shagwell does that “you had it all along” thing, doesn’t she?
Hey, Heather Graham. She’s in this. Hi.
Fine. Exhibit B. Double Austins.
Powers of two?
So Austin hops in Evil’s time machine and goes back in time ten minutes to help himself out. In the madness that follows, Past Austin escapes into the time machine, but it has been nowhere near ten minutes. So what Austin is coming out the other side? Shouldn’t there be some kind of muliplied ripple effect as a result of him directly affecting the conditions of his original trip? Is this one of those Asimov things that ripples forever until time travel is uninvented? It’s the same thing that happens in Back to the Future, give or take thirty years…
Alright, you cheeky bastards. I’ll just enjoy myself. But dammit, Burt Bacharach is the same age in the Sixties as he is in the Nineties and you didn’t even make a joke about it so BOOOOO.
My gut instinct was to give this whole section a pass. I mean, they’re goofy, over-the-top characters. In a sequel. But okay, here we go…
Mike Myers is a hammy nutcheese.
Oh no, I’ve gone mugging.
Good luck not doing a Dr. Evil Voice for about a week after watching this.
Wait, shit, three times. Did I manage to forget about Fat Bastard? Fuck him. Stop adding a terrible new character every sequel, Mike.
This bullshit got you four ogre movies.
Heather Graham is no Elizabeth Hurley.
One of the fun things about time travel in your sequel is casting a different actor to play the younger version of a character. Rob Lowe’s performance as Number Two doesn’t really warrant shouting, “Holy shit! That’s just like Robert Wagner!” or anything…
…but that’s fine, since he’s really only there to set up the joke that Frau Farbissina is still played by Mindy Sterling.
Eyyyyyyyyyeah, it’s kinda funny.
And Mini-Me is okay and Scott Evil is still around and whatever.
THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
Dr. Evil’s time machine is the most adorable thing ever. You jump in, you turn two-dimensional, and you spin into a little hypno-spiral. I could watch it 50 times without getting sick of it.
Let’s not talk about the jokes that actually are repeated 50 times.
Austin’s time machine is a blatant product placement that horribly dates the movie.
Still not as grating as Britney Spears in the third one, but that’s for next week.
OTHER (SPOILERY) STUFF:
- Can’t think of any real big spoilers this time around… hey, wait, time travel is involved in Scott Evil’s conception, but Scott Evil already exists, so they tried an immutable gag in an established mutable timeline… we’ve got frickin’ “immutabullshit” here!
THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
I almost awarded the freak-out to Scott Evil when he bitches out his dad for not using his time machine to just murder Austin while he’s pinching a loaf. And yet, I have to hand it to Dr. Evil for dealing with the Double Austins and their rampaging chronosexuality the way only he can:
“Alright, this is ri-goddamn-diculous. Kill them both!“
A good comedy, no matter how off-the-wall, still needs both laughs and story. On the chuckle front, the absurd mishmash of “anything goes” gags are back, but… eh? They’re just not timed with the same precision as IMOM. I’ve mentioned previously that the first film works so well because of its solid premise of forcing the horny Sixties to quit slapping all the asses in the Nineties office. If this sequel had used time travel to mine comedy out of temporal displacement in the other direction, it might have had enough backbone to stand up to its predecessor. Instead we get Austin goof-dancing around the Sixties and bringing Felicity back to the Nineties and… that’s about it. If you’re going to break out the time travel to get your franchise’s mojo back, remember to actually use it. Speaking of which…
NEXT WEEK, HOLY CRAP:
Threequel Weekquel! Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Army of Darkness (1992), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993), Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), Cinderella III: A Twist in Time (2007), Men in Black 3 (2012)
Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.