Film: The man from uncool

Click to follow
The promotional tagline for Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me has proven true: it is funnier than The Phantom Menace. Why stop there? It's also faster, friskier and more energetic to the power n than George Lucas's monolithic sci-fi superbore, and shows up the likes of Jar Jar Binks for the woefully unfunny creation it is. That it also knocked The Phantom Menace off the Number One slot at the US box-office only endears it to me more.

None of which is to say that The Spy Who Shagged Me actually qualifies as a good movie. Indeed, it flaunts its puerile, lowbrow, throwback comedy in proud defiance of taste. The recipe hasn't changed a great deal since Austin Powers' first outing, International Man of Mystery, re-running its hotchpotch of toilet jokes, double entendres, musical interludes, nutty parodies and daft phrase-making with an almost cretinous exuberance.

Its opening credits even reprise one of the original movie's niftiest sight gags as Powers, a photographer-spy who personifies the swinging, free-spirited libido of the Sixties, swaggers bollock-naked around a posh hotel, the apparently fortuitous placement of various objects - a baguette or a handy compact - keeping his parts private. When he turns away, a trolley nips into view carrying two matching haunches of ham to cover his backside. Five minutes gone and the audience were already hooting with laughter.

A strange phenomenon, this Austin Powers. It basically spoofs the Bond movies, which were themselves well over halfway towards self-parody in the days of Roger Moore. Mike Myers cranks the spoofometer to the top of the dial by playing Powers as a priapic narcissist whose self-love seems to insulate him from the rest of the world. The joke is that he's a hairy-chested, snaggle-toothed, velvet-suited creep who ought to be laughed out of town, yet instead he charms women with his moronic suaveness: "Yeah, baby! Shagadelic!" is about the sum of his romantic foreplay, and it hits the spot every time. Following Elizabeth Hurley in the first movie, Heather Graham is required to shoot adoring looks as Austin's CIA babe- in-boots Felicity Shagwell, while a model called Ivana Humpalot is granted the privilege of cajoling him into bed. This is part of the film's affectionate take on the fantasy of the Sixties: back then even the dweebs got lucky.

Myers also takes the role of the Blofeldish megalomaniac Dr Evil, who decides the best way to unman Powers is to travel back to 1969 in a "time machine" - the quotation marks which Evil scratches in the air are one of the film's running gags - and steal his arch-rival's "mojo" (liquefied virility, if you must know). "Why not just go back in time and kill him while he's on the crapper?" asks Evil's disobliging son Scott (Seth Green), a fair question and typical of the way the film enjoys pre-empting our own queries. At the very moment you fall to wondering about the dubious nature of the "English Countryside" marked on a signpost, Austin pipes up, "Isn't it remarkable how the English countryside looks in no way like southern California?" Here is a film whose budget could have stretched to a location shoot, yet prefers to turn its stand-in scenery to comic account. In the same way, the mythical territory of Swinging London is confined to one street corner with rainbow-coloured sets and a sports car with a Union Jack paint-job.

The film's antic humour is very hit-and-miss. Dr Evil has created a miniature replica of himself called Mini-Me (Verne Troyer), a malignant midget whose climactic moment involves him biting Powers' crotch before being flushed down a lunar toilet. It's funny, in a disturbing kind of way. Not funny in any kind of way is an obese and truculent Scotsman called Fat Bastard, also played (unrecognisably) by Myers, who might be just a little too enamoured of the Scots accent he first paraded in So I Married An Axe Murderer. Similarly, the way Austin delightedly drawls "Be-have", and the relish with which Evil enunciates words like "magma" and "mojo", suggest that Myers is more comfortable with mimicry than the nuts and bolts of comic structure.

In-joke references to The Jerry Springer Show and numerous movie quotations (Jerry Maguire is a particular favourite) rub against frankly obscure stuff, like naming your fiendish missile system after British prog-rock outfit The Alan Parsons Project.

The writing is so slapdash and uneven that long stretches of the movie barely register as comedy at all. How to recommend a film in which whole sequences revolve around finding humorous synonyms for the penis? And yet - and yet it's precisely that silliness which will make the film's name as a junk classic, much as the hair-gel scene did for There's Something About Mary. I felt embarrassed about laughing at these double - and sometimes single - entendres, but I laughed nonetheless. The Carry On crew have not laboured in vain. Just occasionally Myers tweaks the funny bone in an ingenious and unexpected way: Evil and his devoted underling, Frau Farbissina, spend the night together but can't quite look one another in the eye as they shuffle around the coffee machine next morning. This injection of realism - the hangover from an office fling - becomes terribly funny once you remember it occurs aboard a moon base from which a missile assault on Washington DC is scheduled. As Evil eventually explains, "I can't let my feelings for you interfere with my taking over the world."

There are reasons why we should be in favour of The Spy Who Shagged Me. It's a big summer movie which doesn't rely on special effects, doesn't take itself too seriously, doesn't pretend it has any message for the masses. It's driven by a manic if not altogether reliable instinct to entertain, it revels in moments of lunatic inspiration, and it lasts only 95 minutes. That it's also of minimal artistic merit should be clear by now, but if we've got to have junk - and that seems non-negotiable - then let it be junk as lively and ludicrous as this.