Rowan Atkinson in Johnny English (2003)


(director: Peter Howitt; screenwriters: Neal Purvis/Robert Wade/William Davies; cinematographer: Remi Adefarasin; editor: Robin Sales; music: Ed Shearmur; cast: Rowan Atkinson (Johnny English), Natalie Imbruglia (Lorna Campbell), Ben Miller (Bough), John Malkovich (Pascal Sauvage), Tim Pigott-Smith (Pegasus), Greg Wise (Agent One); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Tim Bevan/Eric Fellner/Mark Huffam; Universal Pictures; 2003-UK/USA)

Another feeble 007 parody.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Peter Howitt directs another feeble 007 parody, in a long list of such films that brings nothing fresh or stimulating to the table. The film is let down by everything it tries, from a ludicrous script by a team of veteran spy story screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and William Davies to the heavy-handed direction from Howitt. His reliance on sophomoric comedy antics, tired running gags, inane slapstick routines and toilet humor were not only not funny but exceedingly depressing to watch as the jokes kept falling flat.

Johnny English is played by British comedian Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean in “Bean”), who embarrassingly imitates Peter Sellers’s Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther spoofs and for his efforts comes off looking like a third-rate Austin Powers impersonator. Atkinson had no game for this film, and he’s in almost every shot mugging for the camera and desperately looking to do something amusing.

Johnny English is working a lowly desk job for the MI7 agency and dreaming that he’s a superspy when the country’s top spy, Agent One, is killed in action and every secret agent in England is subsequently killed in an explosion while attending his funeral. The inept English is elevated as the country’s superspy and his fellow desk jockey Bough (Ben Miller) is made his earnest sidekick, as English’s dreams now become reality. When Gallic billionaire entrepreneur Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich) sponsors the exhibition of the Crown Jewels and the jewels are stolen on the opening night, English is the agent assigned to recover the treasure by his boss Pegasus. Sauvage steals the jewels because he believes his family was cheated out of the throne some time ago and he now plans to get himself crowned king of England. When crowned king he plans to transform Albion into the world’s largest penal colony.

The running gag jokes revolve around how bumbling and inept English is on the job (like getting his clothes caught in contraptions) and how he blames others for all his mistakes, while he haplesly tries to track down Sauvage. Help arrives from beautiful Interpol agent Lorna Campbell (Natalie Imbruglia), who at first frowns upon him as an incompetent but then suddenly for no reason at all becomes infatuated with him. They had zero chemistry together as lovers and provided no laughs.

The villainous Malkovich futilely tries to ham it up and employs an odd French accent to point out that he’s not English, much in the same vein as his bogus accent was used in the Rounders. In order to achieve his malevolent aim Sauvage must force the Queen to abdicate, and then get recognized as the next in line for the throne in order for the Archbishop of Canterbury to crown him. The story was too silly to offer any serious comments. The comedy was too weak to offer anything but my condolences. There was not a single clever thing about this flick. To add more insult to injury, it does a cheap shot verbal attack on France in response to the way that country didn’t back England or the USA in the Iraqi war. With the cheapest shot going like this: “The only thing the French should be allowed to host is an invasion.”