After the Hitfix website reported that Mike Myers had signed a deal to do a fourth Austin Powers film, other websites are running wild with it. What’s really going on? Well, I wouldn’t necessarily dress for the premiere just yet. No deal has yet been signed, and top New Line brass are surprised the whole thing has reared up after they made Myers an offer six months to a year ago, and hear nothing. Forgive New Line for being skeptical: The film company thought it was well on the way to another Austin Powers installment when it made a deal in 2008 with Myers to collaborate with Mike McCullers for a Dr. Evil film that was to focus on his relationship with son Scotty (Seth Green), meant to be an unabashed homage to Myers’ father, whose Brit influence basically prodded Myers to create the British agent Austin Powers character in the first place. Then, Myers’ screen creation, The Love Guru, opened to $13 million in June 2008 against the nearly $40 million that Steve Carell’s Get Smart grossed with Steve Carell. Myers went AWOL, surfacing only for a small role in Inglourious Basterds. McCullers never moved forward with the script.
Cut to six month ago. While Myers got a $20 million against 20% of first-dollar gross for Austin Powers in Goldmember (which grossed $297 million in 2002), New Line sent Myers’ reps a pro forma deal offer that gave a low upfront payday against a gross that would kick in after Warner Bros recouped its costs. That’s not an uncommon deal for stars who cashed out-sized first-dollar gross checks but who ain’t ever getting those deals again. Myers was offered a deal similar to the one Cameron Diaz got for Bad Teacher and Jim Carrey for Mr. Popper’s Penguins. The studio heard nothing from Myers — until this week, when Myers’ reps came out of the woodwork and expressed interest. New Line’s not sure what this means. It’s unclear whether Myers wants to proceed with his 2008 dad homage idea, or whether he’s figured out a new way to revive his Shagadelic secret agent. I’m told that at this point it’s not clear whether McCullers will be back or if Myers would work with another collaborator. Also unclear is whether Jay Roach is engaged at this point, even though he directed the first three films. And there is the question of whether Myers waited too long to bring his franchise character back. It’s the risk actors take when they choose to stay away for years at a time. I often wonder the same thing about the wildly talented Chris Tucker, whose name was mentioned as the possible lead in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (a role that went to Jamie Foxx) but who has not been on screen since 2007′s Rush Hour 3. But say one thing for Mike Myers: He’s a handful to work with, but the only movie star who reliably creates screen characters as memorable is Sacha Baron Cohen, who’s currently back at it with The Dictator. Myers probably has enough good will to launch another Austin Powers, but if he wants it, he’d better move quickly and not disappear like he did in 2008. After all, we’re coming up on 10 years since the last Austin Powers, and the clock is ticking.