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Johnny English Reborn

October 22, 2011
Johnny English Reborn

Sometimes you really have to wonder what motivates movie producers. Who sat up one morning a year or so ago, looked around, and said “you know what franchise people are hungry for more of? Johnny English.” Are James Bond parodies relevant anymore? Is James Bond relevant anymore? Someone must have thought so, since Rowan Atkinson’s hapless secret agent is back in Johnny English Reborn. And truth be told, I kinda want to shake that guy’s hand, because it was a lot more fun than I’d expected.

Since the last movie, which you either didn’t see or won’t admit in public to seeing, Sir Johnny English (Atkinson) has been in a bad way. There was a monumental screw-up in 2006 when the new president of Mozambique was assassinated on his watch; since then he’s been hiding out in a Tibetan monastery. But someone has surfaced in Hong Kong and refuses to meet anyone but him.

So Johnny returns to London to find a kinder, gentler MI-7 as part of a Toshiba-branded British Intelligence — “Spying… For You” — and headed up by Pamela (Gillian Anderson). After catching up with old friends Simon Ambrose (Dominic West) and Quartermain (Tim McInnerny), Johnny is introduced to behavioral psychologist Kate (Rosamund Pike) and his new partner, Agent Tucker (Daniel Kaluuya), who doesn’t look quite old enough to shave.

It seems that this mystery man is former CIA, but is now part of a criminal organization that calls itself “Vortex”, and which has a plan to assassinate the Chinese Premier. Adding intrigue, they turn out to have been responsible for Mozambique, which makes it personal for Johnny. He clearly has to stop them, despite himself.

What ensues is preposterous and absurd at best, but it’s great, silly fun. Atkinson has the deadpan of Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau down pat, and the madcap antics bring to mind Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker productions like The Naked Gun or Spy Hard. The chase and fight in Hong Kong are worth the price of admission on their own.

The flip side is that — as in the Pink Panther and Naked Gun movies — everything exists to propel Johnny forward; this is far from the most notable work for anyone else in the cast, but they each provide an excellent foil for Atkinson. The one real standout is Pik-Sen Lim as the film’s equivalent of Odd Job, but even her biggest purpose is to set up a mistaken identity running gag. If you don’t like Atkinson, you’re going to hate this movie; that said, Johnny English is somewhat closer to Edmund Blackadder than to Mr. Bean as an Atkinson character, which helps a bit.

Really, nobody ever expected this to be high art. But it manages to be silly and funny, and oddly-enough smart. There’s some middle-school humor, but by and large everything is pretty inoffensive enough for any PG audience without being insipid the way tween-oriented movies like Spy Kids usually end up. It may not be a kids movie, but it should be plenty entertaining for kids of all ages.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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