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Wry Spy

The 10 Best Offbeat Spy Movies

Catch Austin Powers and Austin Powers in Goldmember Friday, August 19th starting at 6P as part of IFC's Rotten Fridays.

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Photo Credit: New Line Cinema/Everett Collection

By the time Mike Myers donned the glasses and fake teeth for the third time in Austin Powers in Goldmember, audiences had grown weary of the constant “Yeah, baby!” and “Oh, behave!” impressions that plagued workplace break rooms since 1997. (The film’s 54% “Rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes makes it perfect viewing for IFC’s “Too Rotten to Miss” Fridays.) But spoofing spy movies hardly originated with Myers’ horny Brit, nor did the parodies end with his gold member.

Here are the 10 best movies that approach the spy genre with an unconventional eye.

10. Casino Royale

Billed as a movie that’s “too much for one James Bond,” this parody of the Ian Fleming novel boasts a top-heavy cast with a lowbow sensibility. In this swingin’ hypercolor mishmash, Agent 007 is played by several people including David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Woody Allen, and (ahem) a chimpanzee. The film was panned by critics and had a disastrous shoot that had a revolving fleet of directors and screenwriters and at least one star (Sellers) abandoning the production altogether. Decades later, Casino Royale returned as an official Bond film that launched the Daniel Craig 007 era.


9. Our Man Flint

James Coburn sports a billion-dollar grin in this spoof of Bond flicks. A direct influence on the Austin Powers franchise — its sequel In Like Flint briefly appears on screen to the delight of Myers’ character — the film features an international playboy as its lead spy, a terrorist organization of mad scientists, and miniskirted “Pleasure Units.” (Austin nodded to these saucy characters with the infamous Fembots.)


8. The Man Who Knew Too Little

This all-but-forgotten Bill Murray vehicle from 1997 takes the Hitchcockian premise of an everyman thrust into the world of espionage due to mistaken identity and turns up the buffoonery to 11. Hammy and extremely broad, the tone is more suited for a Chris Kattan romp than a Bill Murray spoof. But for Murray completists who appreciate an honest attempt at spy comedy, it’s worth a shot.


7. Burn After Reading

You won’t find Burn After Reading at the top of many Coen Brothers fan lists, but that shouldn’t dissuade viewers from enjoying this entertaining shaggy dog story of bumbling bureaucratic espionage. Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, George Clooney, and John Malkovich are a joy to watch as they mug and botch their way through a hairbrained scheme to blackmail a former CIA operative.


6. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

A bizarre and dubious autobiopic of Gong Show host Chuck Barris, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was adapted to the screen by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) and marks the directorial debut of George Clooney. Barris famously claimed to be an assassin for the CIA, and Clooney and Julia Roberts show up in the film as (possibly fictional) secret agents. The quirky film is also notable for substantiating the infamous “strangest place you ever made whoopie” moment with the actual clip from The Newlywed Game.


5. Spies Like Us

Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd are unwitting agents up against the threat of Russian nukes in this 1985 goofball movie from director John Landis. Less of an homage to Bond than the classic road movies of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Spies Like Us pokes fun at the Cold War lunacy of the Reagan years while offering up some decent laughs. (The foreign service exam scene and field-training scenarios are definite highlights.)


4. What’s Up, Tiger Lily?

In 1966, Woody Allen basically did Mystery Science Theater 3000 over 20 years before Joel and the Bots ever made it to space. The writer-director redubbed the Japanese spy film International Secret Police: Key of Keys into a completely new film — namely, one centered around the search for a secret egg salad recipe. Comedy geeks regard this cult film as a funny experiment with amusing results.


3. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

Once you get past the catchphrases, the original Austin Powers is a solid spoof of spy movies that still resonates today. While the sequels ran once fresh gags into the ground, they did give us memorable characters like Mini-Me (Verne Troyer), Fat Bastard (Mike Myers), and Goldmember (Myers again). (Catch Austin Powers Friday, August 19th at 6P on IFC.)


2. Top Secret!

Underappreciated within the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker oeuvre, Top Secret! is more than your typical spoof stuffed with sight gags and one-liners. The parody skewers everything from The Great Escape to Elvis Presley movies and delivers gags in the Airplane! and Naked Gun directors’ usual laugh-a-second style. But it’s the sum of its parts — including the underwater fight scene and the sequence shot entirely in reverse — that makes Top Secret! a notable comedy standout.


1. Spy

The always delightful Melissa McCarthy charmed audiences with her portrayal of a CIA pencil-pusher transformed into an ace field agent in 2015’s hit Spy. Tossed into the fray after the death of her colleague and crush (played by Jude Law), McCarthy uses brains (and wigs) over brawn in her mission to track down a suitcase nuclear device. Genuinely funny and entertaining, Spy took the 00-spoof genre to new levels of hilarity.

Go undercover with Austin Powers in Goldmember as part of IFC’s Rotten Fridays
.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.