Rixflix A to Z: Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery (1997)

Director: Jay Roach // New Line; 1:34; color
Crew Notables: Demi Moore (producer)
Cast Notables: Mike Myers (Austin Powers/Dr. Evil; screenplay, producer), Elizabeth Hurley (Vanessa Kensington), Michael York (Basil Exposition), Mimi Rogers (Mrs. Kensington), Robert Wagner (Number Two), Seth Green (Scott Evil), Fabiana Udenio (Alotta Fagina), Mindy Sterling (Frau Farbissina), Paul Dillon (Patty O'Brien), Charles Napier (Commander Gilmour), Will Ferrell (Mustafa), Clint Howard (Johnson Ritter), Cindy Margolis (Fembot), Burt Bacharach (himself) // cameos: Tom Arnold, Lois Chiles, Carrie Fisher, Susanna Hoffs, Rob Lowe, Mike Judge, Michael McDonald, Cheri Oteri, Christian Slater, Matthew Sweet, Patricia Tallman
Cinema 4 Rating: 7

I don't have a need to balance my movies out like my girlfriend does. When we left Babel the other night, and I posed an option for the following night of seeing The Last King of Scotland and, perhaps, Letters from Iwo Jima, she professed a desire that one of the movies we go to be, at least purposefully, a comedy. This left me with the vision of going into a theatre late the next night to go see Epic Movie, which left me with a tiny bit of dread, since the trailer is mostly atrocious in execution. As it turned out, we went out to spend the day in Palm Springs instead, but the point was made.

I have an enhanced ability to absorb negativity and sadness when watching a multitude of films in a row. When I see a movie, I try to remain open to whatever emotions might fly at me in the course of a story, and if three movies in a row turn out to heavy-going tearjerkers, then so be it. Where others might need to uplift their mood a bit in between installments of Chan Wook-Park's Revenge Trilogy, I merely dove into the next installment wholly unconcerned for its possible affect on my attitude. I can easily watch one type of film for a whole month, whether unceasing mindless gore, soul-crushing drama or doofy slapstick comedy -- for me, each film is to be approached with a, no matter what the subject matter, and repeated doses of the same type of film don't carry over emotionally for me from film to film. Because I wipe the slate clean before I start the next movie, I am able to approach each one with a blank attitude. Whether I go to see Epic Movie or Letters from Iwo Jima, I try to enter the theatre with an open, receptive mind.

But this doesn't mean that I don't let the outside world affect me. It does -- tremendously. The mutant gene that allows me to hop carefree from film to film doesn't work for me in the real world. Because I don't let the films that I view in my refuge color my mood, I am perhaps overly sensitive to my feelings in my actual day to day wanderings. A misplaced laugh across a room I immediately interpret as a personal attack; a small, relatively inconsequential error on my part will inevitably get blown to gargantuan proportions in my mind and cause the downfall of my mood for the afternoon. This is where film rescues me. By setting my mood to neutral as I enter the theatre, I not only set myself up as a blank slate on which to received the offerings on the screen before me, but I also cleanse my mind, if only for a couple hours, of whatever has brought about an inferno of rage in my true nature. When I say that the theatre is my refuge, my temple of well-being, and my church (for a person for whom a church, as recognized by organized religion, is merely another building)... I mean it.

Which finally brings me to Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, a purely silly comedy if ever there was one. Because it came to me in a time when my emotional reserve was perhaps at one of its lowest points, I have great affection for these movie. I am not a big Mike Myers fan; apart from Middle-Aged Man and Dieter from Sprockets, I have never truly loved any of his characters, thinking that they mainly fell into the usual over-exposure deathcamp that has cursed most of the latter-day Saturday Night Live characters. I liked many of his characters well enough, especially Wayne from Wayne's World, but even he ended up being drawn from the well once too often, as the second movie serves as ample evidence. Myers started to become more interesting to me once he started to develop original characters for the movies, though while many of my friends loved So I Married An Axe Murderer, I felt it was a bit slapdash in its construction, and meandered all over the place structurally, even if it was sweetly funny in many places.

And then, on a night when I could have easily tossed myself off the theatre balcony, had there been one off of which one could hurl oneself (and if I were of weaker composure), I went to see Austin Powers. It was a night where I hadn't yet learned how to wipe that emotional slate clean, and I was unsure of whether I really wanted to go see a movie that night, preferring instead to wallow in misery on my own for about, oh, six months. My friends were insistent that I join them, and of course, I had no choice.

I knew it was supposed to be a spoof of James Bond movies, but what delighted me was that it wasn't. Sure, it had the Bond villainy in place, but Austin Powers is no James Bond. What he really turns out to be is a spoof of the spoofers: he's a goof on characters like James Coburn's Flint and all of the other Bond imposters and knockoffs who marauded the silver screen (and television) in the Swingin' 60's. Austin Powers is the Casino Royale of Casino Royale, vintage 1968: a hip-shaking spoof of a hip-shaking spoof of the real thing. He might be saving the world, but he's doing it with a wink while also doing the Boog-a-loo Shinga-ling, and all before getting shagged but good.

And, as it turned out, it wasn't the world, but me that this ridiculous creation of Mike Myers saved. For that one night, at least. The movie was the exact thing that I needed on that night, and even if repeated viewings have pointed as many jokes that don't work as those that do, it doesn't matter. People love far worse movies for far stupider reasons than this; hell, I can think of dozens of stupid movies that I love simply because they trigger a fond memory of a location, or a particular point in time. But, hardly any of those moments involved a time like the dark one I was immersed in the night that I hit the cineplex with a dozen of my nearest and dearest. I laughed along with my compadres, and outwardly, I seemed one of the group, but inside, the laughter did what laughter is supposed to do in that manner that has brought about that whole medicinal cliché.

There is a reason that I have run to the Marx Brothers and Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd my entire life. Often, my reasons for dowsing myself in their art are for this very same purpose: those moments when I need that certain pick-me-up. The moment in Brazil where Kim Greist, in the middle of an insanely preposterous and grim, though satirical, Orwellian future can only find her smile by watching an old Marx Brothers comedy speaks volumes to me, as it did surely to Terry Gilliam, Brazil's director. And here, though the remainder of his output has left me sort of shrugging (including the Powers sequels), Myers was able to pull me out this self-sickened state and help me, via his ridiculous giant-toothed grin, on my way. What he did was surely groovy.



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