First he flopped in Britain. Now he's fighting for a place in Hollywood history

Yeah, baby, yeah! America has a new sensation at the movie box office. Or, to be more precise, a sensation that is swamping the entire country. Everywhere you turn, from cinema multiplexes to magazine covers, from advertising billboards to gift stores, by way of music videos and the Internet, there is one face, and one face only, staring out at you in all its nerdish amiability.

The name is Powers, Austin Powers. He may not look like much, with his thick, black-rimmed glasses and his foolish grin betraying some unsavoury teeth, but he is the grooviest secret agent on the planet, a hipster straight out of Sixties Swinging London, complete with sideburns, crushed velvet suits and Italian ankle-boots.

And if he's not too busy saving the world, you can be sure that he'll be exercising his irresistible charms on some cute chick, baring his animal-pelt chest hair and delivering his signature come-on line: "Do I make you randy, baby? Do I?" Strangely, it seems to work every time.

Austin Powers is the creation of Mike Myers, a Canadian of great personal modesty. "Basically," he said in a recent interview, "I'm a sexless geek. Look at me; I have no chin, I have acne scarring and I'm five-foot-nothing. It's not exactly a recipe for sexual dynamism."

This unlikely sex symbol was born in a Toronto suburb 36 years ago, to a Liverpudlian couple. He was convinced he was related to the Beatles because they had the same accent as his parents (who, incidentally, further encouraged young Mike's nascent comic Anglophilia by waking him up at night to watch Monty Python on television). By the late Eighties Myers was writing for Saturday Night Live, winning an Emmy and creating in the process the air-guitar-strangling rock-dork Wayne Campbell, eponymous hero of the $200m-grossing Wayne's World movie in 1992. This proved to be a tough act to follow. A year later, So I Married An Axe Murderer was a relative failure, while Wayne's World 2 (1993) brought in a third of the original's takings.

With his career seemingly in decline, and following marriage to a writer he had met at an ice-hockey game (after she'd been hit on the head with a puck), Myers decided to take a year out. He formed a retro-Sixties band called Ming Tea with the LA-based Anglophile popsters Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, which became the house band for the city's most fashionable hangout, Johnny Depp's Viper Club.

Austin Powers began to effloresce in Myers' imagination. Austin is every dorky American's idea of how dorky Englishmen see themselves in their dreams.

And he's hit the jackpot. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me opened across the United States last weekend and already it has achieved the unthinkable, knocking the new Star Wars film off its number one box-office perch only three weeks into its run. It racked up an astonishing $57m in its opening weekend, making it the second-fastest-grossing film of all time after, er, the new Star Wars film. In those first 72 hours alone, it took in more money than its predecessor, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, managed in its entire theatrical run.

And the cinema figures only begin to tell the story. Mike Myers as Powers is on the current cover of GQ, Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly. Inside several dozen more magazines, he is not only the subject of endless articles but also the star of a glossy advert for milk, which he is photographed drinking out of a Martini cocktail glass.

On television, he's out advertising Heineken beer and Philips high-definition television technology.

Madonna has got him in her latest video, Beautiful Stranger. Fashionable New Yorkers are hosting Austin Powers parties, dressing up in hotpants and flares. Austin Powers dolls are flying from the shelves. America On- Line, the Internet service provider, has got a special Austin Powers window that pops up on every user's screen. Virgin Airlines, meanwhile, has got him straddling a Virgin "Shaglantic" jet on huge billboards across the country. As Austin might say, groovy baby! But what happened to transform a relatively modest comic conceit, a spoof on James Bond that barely got noticed the first time of asking, into a phenomenon of monster proportions?

The answer has something to do with the curious, slow-burning appeal of the original, and a lot to do with the aggressively pursued blanket marketing campaign that has accompanied the new release. Whether The Spy Who Shagged Me is in fact any good is a point that, at this stage, has become almost irrelevant. The original Austin Powers was a delicious riff on the notion that James Bond has no business lasting into the Nineties, since the feel of his brand of spy capers - the clothes, the social mores and the geopolitics - are so firmly rooted in the memorable past. Both Powers and his arch-nemesis, Dr Evil (also played by Myers), are cryogenically frozen for 30 years, re-emerging in 1997 to pursue their never-ending battles and behaving as though Nehru jackets, free love and phrase such as "shag me, baby" were still the height of cool.

This anachronistic premiss is a wonderful excuse to play on all kinds of Sixties stereotypes, from the whirling kaleidoscope backdrops and multiple split screens to sequences in which Austin Powers fancies himself as a fashion photographer much like the David Hemmings character in Blow Up.

The bosses at New Line Cinema and its parent, Time Warner, didn't quite know what to make of this first Austin Powers, which they'd green-lighted largely on the strength of Myers' cult status from Wayne's World. They kept the budget low (about $16m) and sold the foreign rights ahead of time to make sure that they recouped their investment. The critics were similarly nonplussed, and the film did no more than middling business on its opening run.

Then came video. From the moment it hit the rental market, Austin Powers took off like a rocket, doing the rounds of college campuses and teenage sleep-over parties over and over again.

Any lingering doubts about making a sequel were then dispelled by last summer's surprise box-office hits, The Wedding Singer and There's Something About Mary - proof that adolescent humour and nerdy heroes are box-office gold in the late Nineties. New Line hurriedly lined up a new deal, this time with a $40m budget and at least that much again to spend on marketing and merchandising.

It could hardly go wrong. "The video was essentially a long commercial for the sequel," says New Line Productions' president, Michael De Luca. "It was a huge factor in making the film into a phenomenon."

Another huge factor was Time Warner's many-tentacled media empire. Two cable channels in the corporate stable have been broadcasting wall-to- wall promotions for the film. One of the company's record labels has issued the Madonna single, while its book-publishing arm has been working overtime on tie-ins. Warner Brothers retail stores, meanwhile, have been stocking their shelves with such items as a Swedish penis-enlarger (as featured in the first film, deemed an ideal joke gift for Father's Day on 20 June).

Amid all this sound and fury, what of the film itself? This is where the problems begin, partly because Austin Powers was never supposed to have a sequel. Sure, both Dr Evil and our hero survive the first film to fight another day, but that ending was clearly an ironic dig at films that leave themselves the option of further instalments. An Austin Powers sequel is thus by definition a bit of a sell-out. More seriously, there is nowhere for the story to go but back over the same territory. Instead of travelling forwards to the Nineties, Powers and Evil jump in a time machine to return to the Sixties, where all the jokes about anachronistic spy caper characters curl up and die.

In their place come a few new characters (a mini-clone of Dr Evil to add to his dysfunctional teenage son from the first movie, plus a third role for Mike Myers in the form of an obese Scotsman called Fat Bastard) and a few replacements (the luscious Heather Graham as the CIA operative Felicity Shagwell, standing in for Liz Hurley in her turn as as a post- feminist Mrs Peel).

The toilet and nudity jokes are not so much elaborated upon, as repeated - over and over again. And instead of the Sixties pop culture references we have tired parodies of Star Wars, presumably as some kind of nod to the box-office competition.

Most startlingly, the new film is chock-full of plugs for its corporate sponsors. Within the first 10 minutes there are clearly tagged references to America Online, Heineken, Virgin and various Kellogg's products. Chili's baby back ribs - a heavily promoted line in the US - do not just get a mention, they enjoy a rendition of their entire advertising jingle.

When Dr Evil sneers at his son and calls him "the mayonnaise, the Diet Coke of evil" you inevitably wonder just how much Coca-Cola paid the producers.

The Spy Who Shagged Me bears all the hallmarks of a film-by-numbers job by a studio that is clearly more interested in launching a commercial franchise than in making a decent movie.

New Line's executives have effectively admitted as much, and already have plans in the pipeline for an animated Austin Powers television series to run on one of Time Warner's cable networks, as well as a feature at the Six Flags Great Adventure theme park, which has a licensing agreement with the company.

"We're in this for the long run. We're building a franchise we hope will be around for a long time," says Rolf Mittweg, co-chairman of New Line's marketing department.

In other words, Austin Powers is turning into exactly the sort of thing it was lampooning in the first place. Having brilliantly and deliciously sent up James Bond for hanging around too long, it now looks likely to do exactly the same thing itself. As Austin Powers might have said: "Oh, behave!"

Additional reporting by Catherine Bassindale

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste