Starring: Rowan Atkinson, John Malkovich, Ben Miller
Director: Peter Howitt
Running Time: 87 mins
Johnny English is a British film about a super-secret and super-incompetent spy from MI7 who is tasked with uncovering the criminal behind the theft of the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.
It seems as if the world in the early 2000s just couldn’t live without an regular Bond parody. The very year after Austin Powers ended its run, along came Johnny English with a similar brand of comedy and action to entertain. On the whole, the movie’s not stunning, but definitely enough good, light-hearted fun to make for an enjoyable watch throughout, particularly thanks to some excellent performances.
Away from Mr. Bean, we all know how charismatic Rowan Atkinson can be, and this performance proves exactly that once again. Although he’s never given the most hilarious or witty script to play with, his comedic timing, physical humour and classically hilarious eyebrows all make him such an entertaining central character, and by far the biggest source for laughs in the movie.
But even beyond Atkinson, there are a lot of very entertaining performances here. John Malkovich is surprisingly easy-going in the antagonist role, whilst the likes of Ben Miller and Natalie Imbruglia also add a great dynamic to Johnny English’s various alliances and conflicts, giving the film at least a vibrant and energetic feel, even if it’s not all that when it comes to the comedy and the plot.
Unfortunately, that is where the movie falls down. Whilst the performances and directing allow it to be a pretty enjoyable turn-your-brain-off watch, there’s not so much to be impressed by when it comes to the writing. Save for a few top-quality gags, Johnny English is a poor mix of Austin Powers and The Pink Panther, bringing an incompetent character too close to a high-stakes story to make either the comedy or plot work well.
Although this doesn’t parody classic Bond like Austin Powers, and instead pokes fun at the Pierce Brosnan era, I felt that Johnny English’s character was just badly written. He may have the charm and charisma of a Brosnan/Atkinson, but his bumbling antics are frustrating to watch, as he muddles his way through cases in a Clouseau-esque vein, and yet still feels deserving of a successful outcome, which doesn’t make for the best laughs.
The plot itself isn’t so important, but it is still very predictable. Preposterous is the name of the game, but the excessive clichés here make many of the more espionage-oriented scenes rather dull. The action’s still a good bit of fun, but this never has any degree of unpredictability, even in a comedic sense, which was disappointing to see.
Overall, whilst it’s not a comedic classic, and definitely not up to the heights of the best Austin Powers movies, Johnny English is still a good bit of silly, light-hearted fun. With great performances and directing, you’ll be able to smile your way through this movie, even if you’ve seen it all before, and the laughs aren’t quite up to scratch, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.2.