The spy who bored me
With Rowan Atkinson, Rosamund Pike, Dominic West, Gillian Anderson, Daniel Kaluuya; Running Time: 101 minutes; Rated PG (for mild action violence, rude humor, some language and brief sensuality); Written by William Davies, Hamish McColl; Directed by Oliver Parker.
Dear Rowan Atkinson: You are a very funny fellow. Your supporting parts in movies like “The Tall Guy,” “Four Weddings And A Funeral” and “Love Actually” are priceless. Why, then, are your own movies so feeble, especially when you have a great character just screaming for a big screen version?
The best thing that can be said about JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN is that it’s not another “Mr. Bean” film. Your Johnny English character is a James Bond spoof, and an out-of-date one at that. When Mike Myers did his “Austin Powers” movies, part of the joke was that the character was in a time warp. When Johnny English has mishaps with various weapons concealed in cell phones and throat lozenges, we wonder where your writers have been for the last forty years.
In your new movie, your Mr. English has been hiding in a Tibet monastery after blowing the biggest case of his career, leading to the assassination of an African leader. Now a CIA agent (Richard Schiff in a cameo) has information about a plot to assassinate the Chinese premier, but will only reveal it to English. So the head of the English secret service (Gillian Anderson) – now a division of a Japanese electronics company – calls English back into service.
What follows is essentially a series of skits. There are some cute gags as English tries to find the CIA agent but picks up on the wrong signals, as well as when he goes after a crafty assassin and confuses her with his the mother of his boss. But these are gags that might divert on a television show, not ones that can sustain a feature-length movie.
That’s the problem with “Johnny English.” It wants us to care about its plot and that isn’t worth doing. By the time English is chasing after three missing keys and then playing spy vs. counterspy against the real double agent, the movie is asking us to take this script much more seriously than it warrants.
The movie is simply too lightweight. Anderson is amusing as English’s boss for a few scenes, but Rosamund Pike should be looking for a new agent after this and “The Big Year.” Dominic West picks up a paycheck as another agent, making us forget how good he was on “The Wire.” Only unknown Daniel Kaluuya, as the young agent assigned to assist English, gets a chance to develop a comic character who actually generates some laughs.
So, please, Mr. Atkinson, you had a long run on British television – shown here on public television – as “Blackadder,” a self-serving and cynical figure who hilariously worked his way through British history. Forget Mr. Bean and Johnny English, two schlemiels who don’t begin to showcase your talent. Give us a “Blackadder” movie and show the world just how funny you can be.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.