[MOVIE REVIEW]Johnny’s on the spot, ready to save EnglandIt has sold more than $100 million worth of tickets, but if you’re from North America, you’ve probably never heard of “Johnny English.”
Blame it on the Munroe Doctrine, or the Bush fils administration, or illiteracy, but something prevents Rowan Atkinson from gaining popularity in the United States.
Mr. Atkinson is best known for his television characters, Mr. Bean and Black Adder. Personally, I’m a much bigger fan of the scathing, historical comedy “The Black Adder,” about a pompous twit who drifts through British history.
The empty, near-silent, and rather innocuous Mr. Bean, however, is the character that far more people know.
Now, Mr. Atkinson brings us a third creation, the bumbling secret service agent Johnny English, a character definitely more in the mode of Mr. Bean than Black Adder.
Bean... err, I mean Johnny... is a middling bureaucrat at MI 7. Note that James Bond in “Dr. No” originally identified himself as being a part of MI7, before switching to MI5 for most of his film career, and, since “Golden Eye,” MI6. The real MI7, depending on who you believe, was once the military’s propaganda division or else a unit dedicated to extraterrestrials and flying saucers.
Anyhow, Johnny has dreams of being a great agent on Her Majesty’s secret service. But dreams are all they are, and all they are likely to remain. That is until Johnny inadvertently annihilates the complete British secret service, leaving him as practically the only one left.
With no one else to call on, the British government asks Johnny to protect the recently refurbished crown jewels.
That goes about as badly as you’d expect (they get stolen), but Johnny’s quest for the thief leads him in an unexpected direction ― a rich, distant heir to the throne, Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovitch, playing one of the broadest, least subtle villains ever).
From there, the story lurches about, with a very elaborate scheme designed by Pascal to make himself the next king of England.
Ben Miller is solid, if unspectacular, as Bough (pronounced “Boff”), the de rigor long-suffering foil. Natalie Imbruglia puts a little more oomph in as mysterious Lorna Campbell.
Plot points come and go, and most of them serve as an excuse for Mr. Atkinson to engage in some physical comedy. Quite often, his pratfalls and ego-driven mistakes can be quite funny, but sadly not as often as one would like.
At the film’s heights, it revels in that wonderful, British sense of disrespect and anarchy that American films have never really captured.
But despite its better moments, the plot, such as it is, is all-too-often extremely obvious and the laughs lack sharp edges.
Comedy / English
by Mark Russell