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Flouting the rules.

The laws of summer survival for studio movies are set in stone, but "Austin Powers'" shagadelic charade has the muscle to break them.

An apology: I realize everyone is sick of reading about "Austin Powers," not to mention seeing that toothy oleaginous grin on billboards, but a brief postscript nonetheless seems appropriate. In achieving its meteoric success, after all, the movie has managed to contradict most of the accepted axioms of the summer survival guide.

(1) Never overhype your movie. Maybe that rule applies to lizards, but for "Austin Powers" the orgy of cross-promotion, whether for milk or MasterCards, for planes or pantyhose, was both ubiquitous and hugely successful. So much for overhype.

(2) Don't overexpose your star, especially if he isn't one. Forget that rule, too. Mike Myers adorned the covers of Rolling Stone, GQ and Entertainment Weekly and did more TV interviews than even George Lucas. Yet who is he? After "Wayne's World," Myers was invisible in "Wayne's World II," "So I Married an Axe Murderer" and "54." Yet overexposure worked.

(3) If you're pushing a comedy and your comic is about as funny as an investment banker, keep him away from the press. Again, New Line broke the rule. Reading Myers' interviews, one can visualize the writers' perspiration as they run out of euphemisms for "boring." "Reserved, dry-witted and positively Canadian," wrote John Brodie in GQ. "Mike is the least flirtatious, least lecherous leading man I've ever worked with," said co-star Heather Graham, praising with faint damn.

(4) Don't plug your competition. Well, maybe, but the "Austin Powers" trailer opened with a portentous "Star Wars"-type scroll and ended with the kicker: "If you see one movie this summer, see `Star Wars.' But if you see two movies, see `Austin Powers.' "Apparently the advice was followed.

(5) Don't let your ad guys boast to the press about their marketing wizardry. Well the New Line boys have been crowing about "Austin Powers" for weeks now and, upon seeing the opening numbers, started crowing even louder.

Even Irwin Stoff, who is Myers' manager and one of the movie s umpteen producers, boasted to the Los Angeles tunes now he got Jerry Springer and the chief of Starbucks to go along with the gag. By contrast, the press agent for Myers informed reporters that her star would not discuss promotional efforts because "he just wants to talk about his art." It was not entirely clear what art she was referring to.

(6) Don't go overboard with product placements. Though audiences have begun to bridle at promotional excesses, "Austin Powers" represents a sort of highlight reel of tie-ins. Starbucks and Virgin Atlantic billboards are part of the landscape, and even the jokes carry plugs -- Dr. Evil disparages his son as "the Diet Coke of evil."

(7) In launching a new franchise, plan it carefully from inception. That was the "Godzilla" syndrome, to be sure, which turned out to be a sequel in search of a movie. Again, "Austin Powers" puts the lie to that rule, since New Line didn't even have a sequels deal in place with Myers when it made the first movie. The remarkable video afterlife of the movie apparently prompted the company to go for a second. So much for careful planning.

(8) When hustling your movie, always remember that sequels per se are frowned upon by critics and the press, so stay within friendly environs. Yet New Line felt no such inhibitions, even having the gall to stage photo ops at the snobbish Cannes Film Festival. If schedules had permitted, they probably would have taken their shagadelic charade to Sundance.

So what does alt this add up to? Since "Austin Powers" broke all the rules, perhaps the rules weren't valid to begin with. On the other hand, in the ease of a completely outrageous film, perhaps there are no rules.

Among the epigrams that Myers tossed out to, interviewers was that he didn't think he had the mojo to do a second sequel. That may be another rule he should consider breaking.
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Author:BART, PETER
Publication:Variety
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 21, 1999
Words:675
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