"Fellini ... Federico Fellini. I have always considered him a great artist."

According to Tom Shales' 'Live From New York,' this was the answer that Mike Myers gave after Brandon Tartikoff, then the head of Paramount, asked Myers whom he wanted to work with in exchange for agreeing to film 'Wayne's World 2.' And Myers was dead serious.

On Friday, it was reported that Myers has agreed to star in a fourth 'Austin Powers' film. Almost immediately, a somewhat unfair collective groan was heard across the Internet at the prospect of another 'Powers' film. As the above anecdote alludes, Myers is not your typical comedic talent and desperately wants to branch out. The problem for Myers: He really has no other choice right now except to do a fourth 'Powers' film. The good news: If he makes the right decisions, it's a great choice to have available.
Since 2002's 'Austin Powers in Goldmember' (and not counting 'Inglourious Basterds'-type cameos), Myers has only stared in three live-action films: 'View From the Top,' 'The Cat in the Hat' and 'The Love Guru.' All three of these films were viciously panned and, worldwide, grossed only $194 million ... combined. It doesn't really matter whether he's a comedic genius who wanted to work with Fellini -- Myers is not in a position to be picky or to pooh-pooh the idea of a fourth 'Austin Powers.' But here's the thing: 'Austin Powers 4' could work.

'Austin Powers': Hard Knock Life

The last entry in the series was a box-office success, grossing almost $300 million worldwide. However, the problem facing Myers with a fourth film is injecting life into a series that, nine years ago, was already starting to show clear signs of fatigue. Most alarming: The culture of spy movies has changed. When 'Goldmember' was released, we were living in a world of over-the-top Pierce Brosnan James Bond films. (Coincidentally, the last Brosnan Bond film was released only four months after the last 'Powers' film.) The current era is much different, what with Jason Bourne and gritty Daniel Craig Bond movies. If Myers can successfully adapt his spoof of the spy genre to what we've been seeing at the theater over the last few years, a fourth 'Austin Powers' could reinvent itself and remain relevant -- recapturing the brilliance and uniqueness of the first film.

Remaining relevant is the greatest obstacle facing 'Austin Powers 4.' The first film, 'Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery,' remains one of the best comedies of the last 20 years. The problem is, when watching as Powers' archenemy, Dr. Evil (also played by Myers), demands a ridiculously low sum of one million dollars as ransom, this what-should-be-still-hilarious scene has been parodied and impersonated so many times, become such a part of the pop-culture landscape, it's impossible to still find it funny. That's why the initial reaction on Friday ranged from indifference to scorn: Myers will have to fight against the overwhelming success of his prior three films. 'Austin Powers' isn't just a part of popular culture; over a five-year period, 'Austin Powers' helped define popular culture.

Myers would like the freedom to do, well, whatever he wants. He had earned that freedom, and that's why we were all subjected to 'The Love Guru.' In other words, Myers' ego betrayed him. Now that freedom has been taken away, and the only way Myers is going to regain his mojo (sorry) is by proving he's still got it at the box office. It's a shame that it's come to this point -- Myers was brilliant in '54' as club owner Steve Rubel. The word "Oscar" was even whispered along with Myers' name in the buzz leading up to the film. Unfortunately (though certainly not because of Myers), instead of making that film about the fascinating real-life story of Rubel and business partner Ian Schrager (who, inexplicably, isn't even in the film), it's about a fictional bartender. Regardless, it's a shame that Myers never got a chance to pursue additional dramatic roles.

Sure, there's also Myers' pet project biography of The Who's late drummer, Keith Moon, which is still labeled as "in production." This movie has been "in production" for at least five years. Put it this way: If this movie ever gets made with Myers starring as Moon, we'll eat a shoe. (A very small shoe, with lots of mayonnaise.) In other words: Keith Moon was 32 when he died; Myers is already 48 -- this just isn't going to work, and that's a shame because it would have been fun to watch.

Unfortunately, Myers will never again be allowed to make a risky feature without, first, making a successful safe one. But what's interesting is that within the world of 'Austin Powers,' he will still be able to take risks. Myers is a genius. His ego failed him. He's been humbled. So, let's just hope he uses whatever drive he's channeling and takes those chances with this fourth film, because a world that includes a Mike Myers who wants to work with Federico Fellini can be a very interesting world to live in.

Photo: Everett Collection

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