One thing we can conclude conclusively from Rowan Atkinson’s second big screen outing as Johnny English. He would have been a FAR superior revived Inspector Clouseau to Steve Martin’s embarrassing take on the guy.
But “Johnny English Reborn,” already a hit overseas, already an epic flop here in the US, makes one wonder if this kind of quaint comedy — crotch shots, physical shtick, parodying a genre that has been Austin Powered to death — can work in the “Night at the Museum/40 Year Old Virgin” age.
Atkinson revives the comic secret agent that he first introduced in a series of TV ads in the UK, but this thin script gives him nothing remotely like a rebirth. A few laughs, gadgets, a daft gadget guru who will remind Atkinson fans of sidekicks of his delicious ’80s TV series “Blackadder,” and a lot of eye bugging pratfalls that attempt to match the dippy, childish lunacy of his other TV creation, “Mr. Bean,” there’s not much here that sticks with you the instant the credits roll.
Johnny English has been on a spiritual martial arts retreat in Tibet for the past five yers, ever since his “shame” in Mozambique — a mission gone horribly, fatally wrong. But he is summoned back by the head of MI-7, Pegasus (Gillian Anderson), because contact with a secret he needs to share will only talk to Johnny.
There’s a plot to carry out assassinations and seize power, hither and yon. Johnny is assigned a 20 year old black sidekick whom he unfortunately keeps addressing as “boy,” is eyed with curiosity by the woman who does psychological profiles for MI-7 (Rosamund Pike at her most gorgeous) and struggles in the shadow of the agency’s most famous spy (Dominic West).
Johnny gambles (badly), golfs (badly) and drives a talking Rolls Royce (nothing like an inconspicuous spy) and hunts for and loses pieces of a secret key. Whatever director Oliver Parker’s other gifts (“Othello,” “The Importance of Being Earnest”), broad comedy comedy isn’t his bag.
Seeing this, one is reminded of how poorly Atkinson has fared in the years since he parted company with the screenwriter turned writer-director Richard Curtis, who used him in “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” The gags don’t turn him into the English Jacques Tati and the dialogue/one-liners etc. don’t do justice to the one-time Blackadder, whose famous Olde English/Elizabethan English/Georgian English put-downs included “He rides a horse rather less well than another horse would.”
“English Reborn” isn’t terrible and is certainly seriously harmless, with its references to “From Russia, With Love” and other Bond films. But it does remind one of the glorious past and the potential Atkinson never realized in his movies, even the hit ones.
MPAA Rating: PG for mild action violence, rude humor, some language and brief sensuality.
Cast: Rowan Atkinson, Gillian Anderson, Dominic West, Rosamund Pike, Tim McInnerny
Credits: Directed by Oliver Parker, written by William Davies and Hamish McCall. A Universal release. Running time: 1:41