a critiQal film review Johnny English (2003)

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Plot: Pascal Sauvage (Malkovich), a villain intent on stealing Britain's Crown Jewels, has murdered the country's top undercover agents, and mediocre spy Johnny English (Atkinson) is ordered to prevent further mayhem. But even with help from quick-thinking sidekick Bough (Miller), the goofy agent lands himself in one precarious situation after another. Only when he meets up with Interpol crime-fighter Lorna Campbell (Imbruglia) is Johnny able to chip away at Pascal's defenses.

Reviewed
470 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 21s)

Rowan Atkinson. Until Johnny English Reborn (2011), that’s a name that hasn’t been around for quite a while. After making a name for himself in Britain with Bean (TV), he did a few flicks…and disappeared. Frankly, after seeing bits of Mr. Bean’s Holiday (2007), I can’t say he was missed. But then, recently, Johnny English Reborn (2011) popped up in theaters – as a sequel to a film I’d never even heard of before. After seeing the original, Johnny English, pop up on NetFlix® week after week, I figured I’d give it a shot. Could this have been a spy spoof worth watching? Or is this just more of Atkinson being unfunny?

Sadly, Rowan Atkinson isn’t far removed from his Bean (TV) persona in Johnny English. Still the bumbling oaf, he stumbles through his scenes with the same idiotic haplessness we’ve seen from him before. Surprisingly, he actually manages a comedic moment or two along the way – enough to elicit a chuckle or two. In other words, not the dead, cricket-chirping silence of, say, a Will Ferrell “comedy”.

The rest of the cast is rather uneven. Natalie Imbruglia isn’t exactly the consummate actress (she’s known more her song “Torn” than anything else on this side of the pond), but she manages to keep up. Ben Miller, on the other hand, is spot on as Atkinson’s foil – though the viewer is distracted by the idea that Atkinson’s character will inadvertently kill Miller at some point in the film. John Malkovich, playing a ridiculous villain, is one of the funniest parts of the film. And yet, it’s almost as painful to watch as hearing his outrageous accent, to see someone of his acting caliber stooping to this level (although, he also popped up oddly in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), so maybe he’s just a big fan of British comedy).

The plot for Johnny English is just as ridiculous. Basically, Johnny is a desk jockey at British secret service, and when he inadvertently gets all the other agents killed, he’s assigned the mission: protect the crown jewels. When he fails at that, he stays on the case and tracks it all back (inexplicably) to Pascal Sauvage, a French businessman who, as it turns out, has ties to the British Royal Family. Honestly, the whole plot is nearly as ridiculous as that of Spy Hard (1996), and Atkinson is no Leslie Nielsen.

Sadly, there are a lot of spy spoofs that are just plain awful, and Johnny English manages to eke out ahead of the other awful spy spoofs thanks to an actual funny sequence or two. Sure, most of it’s ridiculously cheesy, and it’s not good for more than a laugh or two (and it doesn’t even begin to compare to higher quality stuff like Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997). But hey, at least that’s better than any of Atkinson’s previous attempts.

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