Movie Review: “Johnny English Reborn”

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

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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2 Responses to Movie Review: “Johnny English Reborn”

  1. Alex Parkes says:

    “a gadget guru who will remind Atkinson fans of his delicious ’80s TV series “Blackadder,”
    how thick can you get? since when were there any gadget gurus in Blackadder?
    American critics destroy the British film industry, they don’t understand our dry humour or the fact that we are able to take the piss out of ourselves because we don’t have the mindset that we are the greatest country in the world. This film is brilliant because it isn’t serious, although comparing it to Austin Powers is like comparing American Pie to Superbad, they are two different genres in their own right. If you are watching this film for a compelling storyline and brain numbing special effects then leave now, this is a proper parody film, it was never meant to be serious. Some of the scenes in this film were designed to take the piss out of James Bond (a film that has become far too americanised in my view). For God’s sake watch the original and then Reborn but watch them both with the realisaion that these are far from serious and shouldn’t be taken so. These are great British films for British people, it’s like reviewing an Indian Bollywood film and complaining that there isn’t enough nudity. We aren’t american and neither are our films.

    • America ruined the British film industry in pretty much the same way we ruined the British car industry. As in, we didn’t. You lot managed that all by yourselves. The gadget guru character is cut from a long line of Atkinson sidekicks, which was my point — perhaps not crystal clear. The “English” movies are mediocre, the “Beans” something worse. Perhaps if you learned to spell “humour” and pronouce “Jaguar” properly, things would work out better for you in the long run.

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