Old 10-23-2011, 12:14 PM
Oliver Parker's Johnny English Reborn

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:



Johnny English Reborn (2011)

Eight years ago there was a small spy-spoof film called “Johnny English.” It wasn’t a particularly good film, but not particularly bad either. We had already had three “Austin Powers” films by that point however, so it’s fair to say that this particular spoof had already been done to death by the time “English” came along. The reaction to the film wasn’t very strong either, particularly among critics, so that left many with the big question as to why it was thought that a sequel was necessary.

A few years have passed since we last saw MI7 Agent Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson). During those years, a disastrous mission during which a high-ranking official was assassinated has caused him to seek peace at a Tibetan monk temple. However, he is called back into action when a contact for MI7, Fisher (Richard Schiff), demands to speak only to him. Fisher unveils a plot in which members of a secret organization known as Vortex are planning to assassinate a Chinese official.

With the help of his partner, Agent Tucker (Daniel Kaluuya), English must journey around the world in an effort to uncover the agents of Vortex and to obtain the keys which Fisher claims to be an important part of how the assassination is to be carried out. It is up to English and Tucker to prevent the assassination which would take place during important peace talks between the British Prime Minister and the Chinese Premier.

The biggest highlight “Johnny English Reborn” has to offer is getting the chance to see Rowan Atkinson in a new project. Most people are familiar with his amazing work on shows like “Mr. Bean” and “Black Adder,” so they are familiar with just how funny he can be. Sadly, these films have not really given him the chance to show his comic genius, instead settling for jokes that aren’t particularly funny, certainly none that are of the “laugh-out-loud” variety.

You may recall that in “Mr. Bean” Atkinson sometimes didn’t even have to deliver a single line of dialogue to be funny, but instead relied on physical humor, which he performed perfectly, to get laughs. The humor of “English” is mostly childish, if not entirely so. There was cause for concern early on when the film presents jokes about a monk being able to withstand several kicks to the genitals and English training to be able to do the same, a joke you just know is going to come around again by the end of the film, and, of course, it does.

There is some physical comedy to be had here, but nowhere near the level of complexity that Atkinson achieved on “Mr. Bean.” Perhaps the most notable example of this in the film is when English can’t quite control his chair at a meeting, causing it to rise up and sink down several times, all the while English tries to act like he has the situation under control. This gets a smirk, but not much of a laugh.

There is also a continuous running gag involving a cleaning lady/hitman who has a vast array of weapons including a vacuum chainsaw, a vacuum gun, and a golf club gun/golf bag machine gun. This is combined with a case of mistaken identity that again gets a smirk, but no real laughs, especially when it tries to bring the joke back at the end, at which point the audience can see it coming from miles away. I suppose we can count ourselves lucky that the level of humor stayed as far up as it did. At the very least, it didn’t sink down to the Sandler level.

A surprising part of the film was its semi-interesting plot. It is somewhat engaging and does help carry the film through its mildly amusing comedy. The screenplay was written by Hamish McColl, who had worked with Atkinson before on “Mr. Bean’s Holiday,” and William Davies, who most recently had co-written the excellent “How to Train Your Dragon.” The only real overall problem that the script had, besides a lack of truly funny moments, was how much they up-played how incompetent an agent English can be, leading to a few scenes that strained credibility.

What the film really needed was an injection of comedy that plays to Atkinson’s strengths. He’s a funny guy, but this material just isn’t worthy of him. However, like another release this week, “The Three Musketeers,” I was surprised it wasn’t the all-out disaster it was looking like from the marketing campaign, of which this film has had barely any. A rewrite from a truly funny writer who is genuinely familiar with Atkinson’s work could have done wonders for this project. It’s a shame he doesn’t get to show just how talented he really is. 2.5/4 stars.
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