review by Dan
Lybarger, 18 July 2003
Because the James Bond films
have been around so long, they have often become self parodies. This
makes it hard to fashion a really good satire because 007
misadventures like You Only Live Twice, Octopussy and The
World Is Not Enough have eliminated the need for such a film.
From the disjointed Casino Royale to the uneven Austin
Powers sequels, the satires wind up being less amusing than
carries on this groan-inducing tradition despite featuring a couple
of factors that could have really helped. For one, it stars the
talented British comic Rowan Atkinson of Mr. Bean fame, who
played 007's comedy relief in Never Say Never Again. Neal
Purvis and Robert Wade, the screenwriters behind the last Bond film Die
Another Day, would seem like the ideal people for the task.
The personnel are certainly in
place, but the inspiration is not. While Atkinson thankfully gets to
repeat the physical humor of Bean, Johnny English wallows in
the gross-out antics of the Austin Powers flicks but has none
of their energy or inventiveness. Atkinson's title role is an MI:7
desk jockey who idolizes the field agents and would like to fill
their shoes. When all of the remaining agents are assassinated,
Johnny gets his wish, but he quickly proves why he had never been
given an assignment outside of Whitehall. Ordinary weapons like
pistols have a habit of malfunctioning in his hands, and his assumed
knowledge of espionage lore leads him to break into wrong buildings.
Despite his almost Freudian
ineptitude with guns, English correctly surmises than many of MI:7's
recent headaches are actually due to a French prison mogul named
Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich), who is a distant relative of the
British royal family and wants their throne for himself.
Fortunately, Johnny also has some help from his far more competent
assistant Bough (Ben Miller) and a stunning but enigmatic woman
(Australian singer-model Natalie Imbruglia) who keeps showing up on
the trail of Sauvage's thugs.
The plot of this might have been
more fun if Purvis and Wade, who collaborated with William Davies
from such flops as Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot, had chosen
additional targets to the Bond franchise. When the Austin Powers
movies work, it's because Mike Myers and his cohorts manage to
skewer '60s and '70s pop culture as a whole, giving them more
potential targets once the Bond japes get old. Instead, these folks
play the storyline so faithfully that there's really no suspense,
comic or otherwise. Because the plot twists come like clockwork, the
impact of the payoff is blunted. Some viewers might even feel so
prescient that they may send in applications to MI:6. Atkinson's
pratfalls soon become more obligatory than giggle-inducing. Adding a
few poop jokes doesn't help, either.
There are some genuine delights,
though. Atkinson can be very funny because he has no fear of making
a complete and utter fool of himself. Watching him lip-syncing to
ABBA is a lot funnier than going through the Bondian motions.
Malkovich, who really outclasses this flick, throws himself into the
role with abandon and frankly deserves more free time.
Before the film came to the U.S., Johnny
English scraped up over $100 million. It's fitting that Robbie
Williams belts out the film's theme song because both he and the
film just don't seem that interesting on this side of the pond.
Oliver Ford Davies
Tasha de Vasconcelos
PG - Parental
Some material may
not be appropriate