A secret agent without a clue
By Sean O'Connell
Friday, Oct 21, 2011
The tagline for "Johnny English Reborn" - Rowan Atkinson's watered-down 007 spoof - reads, "A little intelligence goes a long way." Let's pray those contemplating this needless effort show a little intelligence and stay far away from any theater foolish enough to screen it.
Who is Johnny English, you're probably wondering, and why was there a need for him to be "Reborn" on screen? Well, Atkinson's creation is a clueless agent on Her Majesty's secret service, who would rank somewhere below randy Austin Powers and the incompetent Inspector Clouseau if one were to make a flow chart of international men of mystery.
He's back in this by-the-numbers sequel because the original "Johnny English," released in 2003, earned an impressive $160.5 million at the global box office. Only $28 million came from the States, proving that U.S. audiences have better taste than they're usually given credit for. But any film posting those types of numbers earns the right to produce a follow-up, tepid as it may be.
"Reborn" certainly globetrots like a Bond sequel, with listless action sequences set in London, Hong Kong and Switzerland (or, more accurately, soundstages made to look like all of the above). Against her better judgment, MI7 head Pegasus (Gillian Anderson) reinstates the retired English (Atkinson) when the agency uncovers an elaborate plot to assassinate China's premier using a mind-control drug.
Along the way, English mingles with stock characters on loan from the time-tested Bond formula. Kate (Rosamund Pike) is the beautiful, brainy female spy who's tough, sensitive and slowly falling for our hero. Eager but untested rookie agent Tucker (Daniel Kaluuya) can't understand why he's so much smarter than his supposed mentor. And then there's English's chief rival, Ambrose, the near-perfect spy played by handsome Dominic West (who can't stop smirking, probably because he's thinking of the yacht he'll purchase using his "English" paycheck).
I spent most of "Johnny English" wondering whom the filmmakers were targeting. While childish and silly, it's far too violent for young kids. Jokes attempted by "English" worked better in the "Ace Ventura" and "Austin Powers" franchises, where we first saw them. And spy genre fanatics patiently waiting for the next James Bond installment quickly will grow bored with this predictable plot, even as "English" director Oliver Parker wastes large chunks of time advancing a criminal scheme you'll care very little about.
Part of the reason the first "Johnny English" occasionally hit its target is because longtime James Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade ("Casino Royale," "Die Another Day," "The World Is Not Enough") penned the script and were in on the joke.
Writing duties for "Reborn" shift to Hamish McColl, who previously collaborated with Atkinson on 2007's "Mr. Bean's Holiday" and still appears to be dreaming up bits for the limber comedian's silent character. Visual gimmicks involving such everyday items as a golf club, an adjustable seat and a motorized wheelchair feel like reheated bits from Atkinson's "Mr. Bean" days. Atkinson has amassed a loyal following that will no doubt support "English" in theaters. But most will leave disappointed, thinking, "Bean there, done that."
Contains mild action violence, rude humor, some language and brief sensuality.