By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Four Beers) –
A plot has been hatched to assassinate the Chinese Premier at a summit in Switzerland. And it is up to bumbling British super-spy Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson) to save the day. While investigating he uncovers a global assassin conspiracy led by moles from within the global intelligence community.
Able to deliver witty barbs and sharp dialog just as strongly as he can handle physical comedy, Rowan Atkinson is one of the most influential and effective comedians to come out of British Television. Lately he has been far from prolific, and has only taken the occasional film or television role, so for those who may be unaccustomed to his style; below is a short example.
I’ll start off by saying, if this kind of humor doesn’t interest you, it is likely best you stay away from Johnny English, which leans heavier on Atkinson’s physical comedic leanings, with the occasional glib comment here and there. It is a fairly straightforward PG comedy, although thankfully it never feels like a kids film.
Unlike Mr. Bean and Blackadder however, Johnny English Reborn never really distinguishes itself in any way. At best the laughs occasion comparison to the Pink Panther films, at worst they are on par with a family friendly version of Austin Powers in Goldmember…
Ok, I’m being a bit too harsh… but still
The movie does have a fair share of decent laughs and comedic set pieces. Particularly of note is the wheelchair car chase, and a scene parodying the Parkour foot-chase sequences action movies all seem to have nowadays. There are a lot of amusing moments in Johnny English Reborn, but there aren’t enough moments to call “hilarious” by any stretch of the imagination. Which takes me to my next point…
The pacing just feels off for much of the movie. For a comedy, particularly a parody, to work really well it has to have a solid grip on the genre it is making light of. And many of the comedic moments are retreads of already overused jokes. This leaves the movie feeling archaic. There is a reason Leslie Nielsen, for instance, will be better remembered for The Naked Gun than for Spy Hard. The kind of humor is exactly the same, but the original did it first, and at the time it was made it felt fresh. Having not seen the first Johnny English, I cannot say if that fits the bill for this comparison, but Rowan Atkinson has done characters with similar traits before… and better.
And that brings up my final point. Rowan Atkinson himself doesn’t seem to be putting his full effort into this Character. Some scenes do remind you of how strong his delivery can be; however, most of the time he seems just plain bored. The jokes feel restrained too. It sometimes feels like he’s developing a masterpiece, but retouches it at the last moment with an underdeveloped idea.
On second thought, this might be an improvement…
I am glad he doesn’t take many roles anymore, because if he is this disinterested in his work, it is for the best anyway. I’m making all this sound worse than it actually is, though. If you’re looking for a piece of light entertainment, this is still something worth a look. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to obtain it.
If you’re looking for a family-accessible espionage comedy, let me suggest instead Bill Murray’s criminally overlooked 1997 film The Man who Knew too Little, which only gets better with repeat viewings.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every nut-shot
Take a Drink: any time “Mozambique” is mentioned
Down a Shot: whenever Johnny mistakes a gadget for another gadget