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Johnny English
2003 - PG - 88 Mins.
Starring: Rowan Atkinson, John Malkovich, Natalie Imbruglia
Review by: John Ulmer
   
Like most of the spy spoofs before it, "Johnny English" doesn't seem to achieve its full potential. It has a lot of material, a lot of spirit, and a lot of talent, and just the right amount of charisma, laughs and gags, but nevertheless fails to muster up enough laughs to strongly recommend.

Rowan Atkinson is the eponymous lead, aptly named Johnny English. He's a wannabe secret agent with no knowledge of spy tactics, weapons or combat training whatsoever. The story starts with Johnny imagining himself as Number 1, the best agent in MI7. Johnny wakes up to realize what he really is: A penpusher working second (or lower)-hand to Number 1. But after Number 1 dies because of a falty escape hatch in a submarine, Johnny takes it upon himself to work security at the funeral, which then explodes, killing everyone who once worked close to Number 1. Johnny is the only person to escape unscathed.

It's not long before MI7 realizes Number 1 was on to something important (although why he never reported anything to MI7 is beyond me), and so they send in the only remaining person even remotely close to Number 1, Johnny English, to help them find out what's going on. (Though it should be obvious to them Johnny has barely even met Number 1, and the Head of MI7 probably knew Number 1 better than Johnny ever did.)

This is the weak setup for Johnny to stumble upon a conspiracy to steal the Crown Jewels of England led by Frenchman Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich), who attempts to become king of England and turn England into a giant jail for criminals. ("Escape from New York," anyone?)

"Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" was a surprisingly funny spy spoof. It went a bit limp at times, but delivered on the whole. "Johnny English" tries desperately to become the next Bond-spoof film; and while it is entertaining for 88 minutes, it is in no way as clever or humourous as any of the Austin Powers entries. (Well, the first two, at least.)

It is very hard to dislike Rowan Atkinson in any film. There is much the same here. But alas, the flaws do not lie in the cast, which is perfect. John Malkovich gives a terrific performance as a British-hating-Frenchie. The beautiful Natalie Imbruglia doesn't capture every scene like Rowan and Malkovich, but holds her own. No, the problems lie in the script.

The film tries to be both the new "Austin Powers" and the new "Mr. Magoo" (yes, "Mr. Magoo"). The jokes range from intelligent adult humor to kiddie-pranks, involving a man crawling up a "poo shoot" and having about ten men flush "poo" down the toilet on him in a truly appalling scene. That's where the "Mr. Magoo" side comes in. Stupid prat-falls involving crude stints for children. I compare some areas of the film to "Mr. Magoo" also because the filming technique can, at times, be like Magoo.

Also worth pointing out is Robbie Williams' opening title song, which sets the film up for more of an overdrawn music video than anything; a music video with vibrant colors and annoying vocals on Mr. Williams' behalf. I was scared during the titles, to say the least.

But I seem to be harming the film's reputation too much. There are some great (nay, funny), if uninspired areas in the film, including a hilarious graveyard scene we've seen before but nevertheless laugh at. Once past the title sequence, the film gathers momentum, presenting an excellent middle, but then loses its steam during the last half-hour stretch.

But in the long run, if you are looking for a film you can take your children to see and, at the same time enjoy yourself, "Johnny English" is the way to go. It's hard to dislike the film. Yes, we see all the gags very far in advance, and sometimes the slapstick gets out of control, but at times it can be quite funny, and that is the film's strength, if any.

It's harmless, and enjoyable for an hour and a half, though not worth going out of your way to see.

You know when you are walking through a movie theater, and you get outside the push-doors to a particular screening-room? You know those little signs you always see that say "Please turn off cellphones"? Well, the sign outside "Johnny English" should say, "Please turn off brains before entering," because if you do so, you're sure to have a fun time.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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