Johnny English
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 their targets.

Johnny English 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.

Directed by:
Peter Howitt

Starring:
Rowan Atkinson
Natalie Imbruglia
Ben Miller
John Malkovich
Tim Pigott-Smith
Kevin McNally
Oliver Ford Davies
Douglas McFerran
Tasha de Vasconcelos
Greg Wise
Steve Nicolson
Terence Harvey
Nina Young
Rowland Davies
Philippa Fordham

Written by:
Neal Purvis
Robert Wade
William Davies

Rated:
PG - Parental
Guidance Suggested.
Some material may
not be appropriate 
for children.

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