Friday, November 20, 2020

Dual/Duel Review: Bond, Spoof of James Bond

Dual/Duel reviews are an online smackdown between two books, movies, games, podcasts, etc. etc. that I think are interesting to compare, contrast, and comment on. For a list of other dual/duel reviews, go here.

James Bond is so popular, he naturally has imitators, commentators, and satirists. I thought it would be fun to look at two comic takes on the classic British spy.

Our Man Flint (1966) directed by Daniel Mann

The world suffers under freak weather catastrophes that can only be caused by science. A group of scientists are trying to make the world a better place by blackmailing the world's governments into completely disarming. Not just the nukes--everything must go. Naturally world governments would like to avoid such a horrible situation. They've sent groups of spies to infiltrate and eliminate the scientists. So far, all have failed. At the Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage (yeah, they are ZOWIE), the world intelligence leaders put their criteria into a computer (using punch cards!) and out comes the name Derek Flint (James Coburn). The head of the Americans, Cramden (Lee J. Cobb), is reluctant to recruit Flint. Flint doesn't follow rules or instructions.

Flint is reluctant too, turning down several offers until Cramden is forced to make the appeal personally. Flint finally takes the job when he's almost assassinated while out with his four live-in girlfriends. Cramden takes the poison dart meant for Flint, but luckily Flint is a master at emergency surgery and saves Cramden's life. He smells some bouillabaisse on the dart, which leads him to Marseilles. He finds the club that sells that particular soup and has a run in with British agent 0008. After a comic fight and another clue is revealed, Flint is off to Rome where the assassin (Gila Golan, whose character is named Gila) has a cold cream company that's a front for the bad guys. Flint meets Gila and has a romantic liaison with her. He steals her office keys and sneaks into the factory where he is trapped in a vault. He's supposed to die when the oxygen runs out but he fakes his own death by relaxing himself into a state of suspended animation.

The bad guys take him to their island base to prove that he's really dead. He revives and sneaks off only to discover his four live-in girlfriends have been kidnapped and are being turned into "pleasure units." He frees them, busts up the base, and Gila has a change of heart and joins the other four women in returning to America with Flint.

The movie is ridiculous in the extreme. They quite consciously parody James Bond, even having the 0008 character in the movie. Flint is an uber-Bond. He's not only well-informed about the finer things (like alcohol and art), he's well-informed about everything. He's also a master of disguise and kung fu combat, which definitely looks like a parody of kung fu with exaggerated yells and stances. He's also a womanizer though he's enlightened enough not to let his women be treated like "pleasure units" by others.

The movie goes too far over the top in my opinion. The humor is repetitive and looks really dated. Coburn looks like he's having fun and it does show how silly the Bond franchise could get.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) directed by Jay Roach  

Austin Powers (Mike Myers) is a popular pop photographer and swinging single in 1967, but also a master spy. Powers works with Mrs. Kensington (Mimi Rogers) who enjoys the freewheeling lifestyle but also is faithful to Mr. Kensington and thus immune to Powers's charms. Powers's main nemesis, Dr. Evil (also Mike Myers), plans to assassinate Powers at a swanky club. The plan fails, forcing Dr. Evil to cryogenically freeze and launch himself into orbit.

Thirty years later, Evil returns to the Earth, specifically the outskirts of Las Vegas, where he has a secret underground base. He resumes his supervillain life, capturing a nuclear warhead and planning to blackmail the world for one million dollars. His evil henchman Number Two (Robert Wagner) convinces him to go bigger, asking for 100 billion dollars. You know, thirty years of inflation.... Dr. Evil also has to deal with his son Scott (Seth Green), who hates him for being an absent father. Dr. Evil both wants a relationship with his son and wants his son dead, depending on whichever makes for a funnier scene.

Meanwhile, the British secret service defrosts Austin Powers, who had himself cryogenically frozen to fight Dr. Evil if he ever came back. Austin also needs to change his expectations. It's thirty years after free love and drugs. Mrs. Kensington's daughter Vanessa (Elizabeth Hurley) is assigned to help Austin adjust to modern times. Austin's first thought is to "shag" her, which she finds repulsive. He slowly gets used to the idea of treating women as something other than sex objects over the course of the film, though he goes through a lot of experiences before he gets to the point of treating Vanessa like he should.

Austin and Vanessa head off to Vegas where they have run-ins with the bad guys, including a medium-stakes blackjack game and a tour of Dr. Evil's corporate facilities (they've expanded into legitimate businesses over the years, making lots of money without committing crime). They are captured by another henchman named Random Task (who is, of course, an Odd Job clone) and taken to the base on the outskirts of town.

There, Dr. Evil plans an elaborate, slow, and easily-escapable death trap for the two agents. In a touching moment, Scott asks to get his gun and just shoot them to make sure the plan actually works. Dr. Evil scoffs, wondering what could possibly go wrong. Austin and Vanessa do escape the death trap and eventually blow up the facility, stopping Evil's plans. Evil refreezes and relaunches himself into orbit. Austin and Vanessa live happily ever after.

The movie is mostly a spoof of James Bond films, though it also mines other 1960s spy movies for content. Powers's appearance is based on Michael Caine's Harry Palmer series (which was based on a John le Carre novel). That opens the door for the mockery of British dental hygiene, though I don't think Caine ever wore such elaborate costumes. The photographer bit (which provides almost no comedy) is from the Matt Helm series, itself an attempt to cash in by parodying James Bond. So the Powers character is a pastiche of 1960s film spies. Myers is funny as the clueless and self-absorbed spy hero, but even with all this source material, the character is still mostly Myers.

The more strictly Bond satire is reserved for Dr. Evil, who looks like Blofeld and even has a cat like Blofeld's. The plans are straight out of Bond as are his henchman and his deathtrap. The addition of the son is a bit weird and only works as filler to add more jokes. They go to father-son therapy and the son complains about the impracticality of his father's plans (a common objection faced by Bond villains). Myers is more creative and funnier in this role.

A lot of the lines from this movie have moved into pop culture ("sharks with frickin' laser beams", "I MILLION dollars").

This movie is definitely less dated than the first, though it's already starting to show some age. Powers's conversion from a swinging single to a sexually monogamous guy is not at all convincing and seems thrown in as an apology for the earlier raunchy comedy. The movie shoots at a broader target and hits often but not all the time.

Which is better?

Austin Powers is definitely funnier and less cringe-worthy than Our Man Flint, so I give it to Powers.



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