One of Mike Myers’ best movies is where he does the least amount of shtick.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
If anyone should be ripe for a huge comeback any minute now, it’s Mike Myers. Myers is largely responsible for two of the most iconic comedies of the 90s, Wayne’s World and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. If you weren’t there and cognizant of it then, it’s impossible to explain the grip both movies had on 90s pop culture, particularly Austin Powers. Even now, 25 years later, it’s very likely that you’ll occasionally hear someone say “One hundred…billion…DOLLARS” in the voice of Dr. Evil, or refer to a person’s lookalike child as their “Mini-Me.” Its closest competitor in the zeitgeist is probably Clueless, and Clueless didn’t get two sequels.
Curiously, other than voicing Shrek, Myers hasn’t been able to repeat that remarkable success. Well, actually, scratch that, it isn’t curious: he followed the third Austin Powers movie with several inexplicably poor decisions, including playing a version of Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat that desperately wants to have sex with a human woman, and doing brownface (in 2008!) in The Love Guru, a movie that has more dick jokes than a high school boys’ locker room. That was the last time Myers led a feature film, limited since then to supporting roles in Bohemian Rhapsody and Amsterdam, almost always unrecognizable under several pounds of latex and fake hair. It can only be assumed that at least the unrecognizable part is by choice.
In fact, the last time Myers wasn’t playing some sort of broad caricature was in the follow-up to Wayne’s World, 1993’s So I Married an Axe Murderer. Though it’s since gained a loyal cult following (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it now), it was initially greeted with a collective shrug by audiences and critics alike. Evidently, Myers viewed playing a regular person unburdened with wigs, false noses, dental appliances, weird contact lenses, or funny accents as so detrimental to his career that he never did it again. Even when he did a stint hosting a short-lived revival of The Gong Show Myers was in character, playing a fictitious British game show host named Tommy Maitland. Why anyone would feel it necessary to create a character with an elaborate backstory to host a Gong Show reboot isn’t entirely clear, other than Myers is kind of a weird guy who’s obsessively dedicated to emulating his idol Peter Sellers, right down to allegedly being humorless and difficult to work with in real life.
Myers’s role in So I Married an Axe Murderer is also unusual because, rather than getting the lion’s share of the jokes, he mostly plays straight man to a collection of quirky supporting characters. Now, to be fair, one of those supporting characters is also played by Myers, offering a taste of what was to come, but my point still stands: it is to date the only time he’s played a standard leading man, without all the bells and whistles and showboating. He’s perfectly charming, laidback and funny without trying too hard, and content to let his co-stars steal the spotlight, a far cry from, say, Goldmember, in which he eliminated any potential competition by playing most of the supporting characters himself.
Charlie McKenzie is a San Francisco spoken word poet, in case you forgot that this movie was released in 1993. He’s recently single and unlucky in love, which his best friend, police detective Tony (Anthony LaPaglia), blames on Charlie’s fear of commitment and Seinfeld-esque need to hyperfocus on tiny flaws in his partners, such as claiming that one “smelled like soup.” However, that might change when he meets a butcher named Harriet (Nancy Travis), and their connection is immediate. Though they quickly fall into a relationship, and he and Harriet seem to be a perfect match, Charlie soon finds himself plagued with doubt again, particularly once he gets it in his head that Harriet may be “Mrs. X,” on the run for killing her last three husbands. With Tony’s help, he hopes to prove those fears wrong and build a life with Harriet.
That’s the Cliffs Notes version of the plot, but really there’s not that much more to it than that. Directed by Thomas Schlamme, So I Married an Axe Murderer isn’t so much a movie as a collection of comedy sketches, mostly involving Charlie’s eccentric family and the oddballs he meets while trying to solve the mystery of Mrs. X. That’s not a criticism, because the comedy bits are laugh-out-loud funny, with a strange, occasionally surreal undercurrent that wasn’t usually found in 90s mainstream comedy. While the rest of you were quoting from Wayne’s World, us cool kids were quoting “Heed! Move!” in an absurd Scottish brogue, like Charlie’s father Stuart (Myers’s second role), obsessed with both conspiracy theories (back when that kind of thing was still funny) and the size of Charlie’s teenage brother’s head, insisting that it’s “like an orange on a toothpick.”
There’s also Charlie’s mother (Brenda Fricker), who refers to The Weekly World News as “the paper” and is absolutely horned up for Tony, clinging to his ass like it’s a life preserver as they dance at a wedding. Harriet’s kooky sister Rose is played by Amanda Plummer, who never brings anything less than the weirdest energy to every performance. Appearing in smaller but no less memorable roles are Phil Hartman as a grim-faced Alcatraz tour guide (nicknamed “Vicky”) who regales tourists with horrifying stories about prison retribution, Alan Arkin as a police chief who’s simply too nice for his job, and Charles Grodin as a driver who couldn’t give a shit less when Tony flashes his badge and demands that he commandeer his vehicle. Despite Charlie’s initial belief that Harriet may be a serial killer, she’s really the most normal person he knows.
Though it’s a romantic comedy at heart, it should be mentioned that there really is an ax murderer in So I Married an Axe Murderer. There’s a wonderful sense of the macabre, particularly in the last twenty minutes, when Charlie and Harriet spend their wedding night at an isolated mountain hotel, where the other guests are just a little too excited to see them there. Despite the coffee shop where Charlie recites his mediocre poetry and alternative soundtrack (The La’s “There She Goes” was far more successful at the time) placing the movie firmly in the early 90s, the humor and shifting tone feel far more at home in the present. Whereas at the time Stuart’s paranoid rant about a malevolent secret society that includes Queen Elizabeth and Colonel Sanders had critics scratching their heads, now it’s just Tuesday on social media.
The problem with So I Married an Axe Murderer isn’t that we got too much of the “real” Mike Myers, it’s that, like Cabin Boy and The Cable Guy just a few years later, audiences at the time didn’t know what to make of it. It’s doing its own thing, and not working particularly hard to get the entire audience on board, and, still close to the extremely homogenized 80s, we weren’t ready for that yet. But we can appreciate it now.
As a strange postscript, in 2021 Netflix produced The Pentaverate, a limited series based on Stuart McKenzie’s secret society conspiracy theory. Mike Myers, unrecognizable under several pounds of latex and fake hair (as you probably guessed), played a record high of five different characters, there’s little evidence that any of the amiable weirdness of So I Married an Axe Murderer was present, and the series made not so much as a blip on the pop culture radar. Sometimes, the wrong lessons are learned, and a project collapses like a drunk bagpiper at a wedding.