The public gets a lot of flack for flocking to big-budget, high-concept idiocy while ignoring such smaller, more deserving films as Rushmore and Election. And while the relative success of, say, My Favorite Martian might border on the perverse, pundits also underestimate the public's ability to appreciate genuinely odd and idiosyncratic work. After all, when it first aired, few would have guessed that Seinfeld would become the most popular TV show in America, and few predicted that a modestly budgeted parody of relatively obscure James Bond spoofs called Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery would spawn one of the most hotly anticipated sequels of the decade. Thankfully, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me is the rare big-money, high-concept sequel that actually lives up to its hype. Sharing many of the strengths but also many of the weaknesses of its cultishly adored predecessor, the new movie follows its enthusiastically debauched hero (Mike Myers) as he travels back to the '60s to reclaim his mojo from the villainous Dr. Evil (also Myers), who similarly travels back in time with plans to take over the world via a giant death ray. Of course, the plot doesn't really matter, and if anything, it's even sillier than that of the first film. What matters in movies like The Spy Who Shagged Me is the quality of the jokes, which are every bit as funny as those in the original. Screenwriters Michael McCullers and Myers are skilled pop-culture scavengers, stealing and borrowing jokes from so many places that you'd need footnotes to identify every reference point. During the past two years, Austin Powers has become a pop icon, but he's also become a bit of a cliché, so it's perhaps understandable that The Spy Who Shagged Me chooses to focus largely on Dr. Evil, whose tiny sidekick and embrace of '90s popular culture are the source of some of the biggest laughs here. The film falls apart a bit during its last half-hour, as love interest Heather Graham is given little to do other than look gorgeous, but The Spy Who Shagged Me is still the most consistently funny studio sequel in some time, and the rare blockbuster that actually delivers on what it promises.
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