Does anybody out there remember the 2003 spy parody “Johnny English”? No, that’s what I thought. Personally I don’t remember anything at all from it, more than that it wasn’t very funny; simple slapstick comedy that signaled its hilarious punchlines several minutes in advance. Whoops, a big hole in the floor, will Johnny English fall into it?
Was that movie really successful enough to require a sequel? And it feels even more odd to make a James Bond parody three years after “Quantum of Solace”, the last Bond adventure. Why not wait until the next Bond flick arrives?
Rowan Atkinson is back as the British Secret Service agent Johnny English. But when the movie opens, he’s retired to a temple in Tibet. There’s he’s taught kung-fu and trains his … well, his — ahem — genitals (Yep, he really does). All this because a mission in Mozambique that turned into a catastrophe since English preferred hanging out in a jacuzzi, drinking champagne and drooling over a sexy lady instead of protecting the president against an assassin.
But eventually Johnny English is called back into action — a worldwide criminal organization plans to kill China’s premier, a man in Hong Kong knows all about this — and he refuses to speak to anybody but English. The head of MI7 (Gillian Anderson sporting a British accent) protests, but has no other choice than sending English to Hong Kong along with a young rookie agent (Daniel Kaluuya).
Then follows a long string of escapades, which of course usually ends with Johnny English screws things up, things get chaotic, things break, people fall over, and what the movie really is about is really irrelevant; “Johnny English Reborn” could be just about anything. But then, I guess nobody goes to this movie expecting an exciting spy thriller — you watch it because you want to see Rowan Atkinson acting silly. Our hero also manages to get himself a love interest, a colleague called Kate and who’s played by Rosamund Pike from “Die Another Day”.
I can’t say I have anything against Rowan Atkinson; “The Black Adder” is still one of my favorite sitcoms (in particular the episode “Beer” from the second season), and Mr. Bean can be funny — in small doses. It’s worse when we get 101 minutes of slapstick. Especially when it isn’t very funny.
Here are a few moments of brilliance. A parody of the running and climbing chase from “Casino Royale” is ingenious, and here are some other funny scenes that actually made me laugh (like the one where a chair is hoisted up and down), but otherwise the movie is drawn out and a little repetitive, and sometimes the comedic timing is a little awkward.
One can compare “Johnny English Reborn” to those two Pink Panther movies starring Steve Martin. Harmless, well-meaning, totally unnecessary, but I understand Martin’s Inspector Clouseau is popular among younger kids who’ve never seen Peter Sellers’s superior interpretation. And I can imagine that grade school kids will find Johnny’s escapades hilarious.
Besides missing the last Bond movie by three years, it’s also weird that it’s the old Bond adventures they’ve chosen to make fun of and pay homage to; here are several nods to scenes and locations from the Connery movies and to “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. 40 years too late.
“Johnny English Reborn” is harmless and unnecessary and I suppose it will work best as TV fodder a hung over Sunday. Among director Oliver Parker’s earlier works is the Oscar Wilde comedy “An Ideal Husband”.
If you do go see this movie in a theater, stay during the end credits. Then you’ll get to see Johnny English cook to the beat of “In the Hall of the Mountain King”.
“Johnny English Reborn” has already opened in Australia, most of Asia and Eastern Europe. It opens in the UK and Sweden on October 7, while Americans will have to wait until October 28.
Images copyright © UIP Sweden