Johnny English

Inept secret agent, inept jokes, inept direction, just all kinds of inept.

Released in 2003, certified UK-PG. Reviewed on 13 Apr 2003 by Scott Morris
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Rowan Atkinson's last big screen outing of Mr. Bean was inordinately successful, making something like ?160 million. For his newest project he digs further back to a series of Barclaycard adverts for this Bond spoof, with results that could politely be described as mixed or accurately described as rubbish. A few funny moments only serve to accentuate the uninspired mess of the other sections, with vast swathes of plain unfunny boredom.

Johnny English is a low ranking official in MI7, responsible it seems mainly for filing. After an assassination attempt, caused by his lapse in security, kills every more senior and more able agent he's all that England has to offer to stop a rumoured plot to steal the crown jewels. English is assisted by a far less hopeless junior agent, Angus Bough (Ben Miller). Miller is one of the few positives in the movie, bringing a few deft touches to a stale character. Like English, he plays to every stereotype of the English in general but spends less time gurning at the camera as Atkinson does.

England would be doomed if left to Johnny, such is his frightening and very occasionally amusing level of incompetence. Fortunately he has help from a stunning Interpol agent, Lorna Campbell played by Natalie Imbruglia, soap star and songstress. There may have been a question as to whether this is the start of a stunning new movie career for the Aussie lass, but there's not enough evidence here to give an answer. Certainly she doesn't seem out of place, but she's given little more to do than look pretty while Johnny stumbles through another alleged comic misadventure.

Who could be behind this insidious plot to steal the crown jewels? The French, of course, namely Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich). It all transpires through a series of handily overheard speeches that this is merely the beginning of an even more insidious plan to ascend to the crown of Britain and turn the place into a giant prison. Quite what the Oscar-winning(TM) Malkovich is doing here is a mystery known only to his accountant. It would be nice to say his performance is laughable, but like the majority of the movie laughs remain a far off, unreachable dream. His cod French accent is truly a thing to marvel at, but not in a good way. Think of a less convincing Allo Allo accent and you're most of the way there, which would be okay if it was funny. I submit to the court that it is not. It is supremely annoying. It is the kind of performance that makes you feel uncomfortably dirty that the poor man has to prostitute himself for this sort of pap.

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The majority of the jokes are simply puerile nonsense, bottoms and poo featuring prominently. In a general sense there's nothing wrong with this, but it's poorly written, unfunny puerile nonsense. This is a pity as the start of the movie is fairly strong, but it peters out into toilet humour too early in the movie 'building' to a tired climax that was so exciting our very own Craig Disko fell asleep. This simple somnatory act speaks far more than any words I have can. Some sections are genuinely funny, especially the car chase scene at the front end of the movie. If the comic ingenuity of this scene were present throughout the remainder of the film this would be a terrific film, but none of the effort seems to have made it into the rest of the flick. Similarly, creating an amusing chase scene that is also funny is a very difficult thing to do, and requires a fair amount of bravery from director Peter Howitt (director of Sliding Doors, but forever known to me as Joey off Bread). Unfortunately there is none of this bravery in direction carried through anywhere else, and the film seems terribly stale and formulaic as a result.

Given the French's recent petulant diplomatic behaviour anything that pokes fun at the cheese-eating surrender monkeys should be applauded, but in this case having Atkinson perform his own familiar brand of rubber-faced pratfalls and pompous speeches is no substitute for writing a script that contains more than three jokes. It should be pointed out that I'm not really in the target audience for this movie, and the pre-teens present seemed to enjoy themselves, given there continual high-pitched squealing, although this may have been due to some more interesting form of torture. Well, have you seen the Iraqi information minister about lately?

The movie was in part written by two actual Bond movie writers, Robert Wade and Neal Purvis. Given that in recent years Bond rather neatly parodies itself quite why they felt the need to write out a 90 minute parody with barely enough funny material to fill 10 minutes will remain a rhetorical question. The actors perform as well as the lacklustre script deserves, with Miller and Atkinson allowing a few glimmers of talent to get through the mire of mediocrity but for the most part this movie is uninspired, unfunny and unnecessary.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements I'd award this 1/5 TippyMarks.

Peter Howitt
Cast list:
Rowan Atkinson (Johnny English)
John Malkovich (Pascal Sauvage)
Natalie Imbruglia (Lorna Campbell)
Ben Miller (Angus Bough)