When the British Secret Service loses all its secret agents in a bomb attack at the funeral of Agent One, the top brass have only one man to turn to to save the world: Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson), a low level desk jockey inside the service who has fantasised about being an agent like One. The world needs saving because there seems to be a maniac plotting something sinister – which turns out to be a French billionaire maniac Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich) plotting to force the Queen’s abdication so he can take his rightful place as King of England, and then turn the place into the world’s biggest prison (prisons are his business). It’s up to Johnny and a truly secret secret agent (Natalie Imbruglia) to unmask Sauvage for the master crim he is, and save England (and hence the world).
Review by Louise Keller:
I must admit I do love Rowan Atkinson and his particular brand of humour. Perhaps that’s why I am pretty forgiving of Johnny English, a droll and sometimes entertaining spy spoof, but what a film it could be with the right script. The concept comes from a series of one minute TV commercials that Atkinson did for a British credit card company featuring an accident-prone spy, which apparently was very popular. So why not? A smidgeon of Bean shaken and stirred, with a soupçon of I Spy British-style, add a verree Frrensch villain à la John Malkovich, plus a cool-headed shapely brunette Natalie Imbruglia-style, and you get the English walking disaster. If there’s a right way to do it, it’s probably in another film, because although this unfortunate secret service agent authoritatively tells us that the word ‘mistake’ may not appear in his dictionary, we delight in his every mistake. And of course, there are many. He drops his gun, catches the wrong culprit, mixes up truth serum with muscle relaxant, misuses the gadgets, breaks into the wrong building and basically makes a total ass of himself. There’s even a scene in which he tap dances on a coffin awaiting burial before the grieving widow, when he mistakenly believes the coffin to be the hiding place of the stolen goods. My favourite wacky moment comes when English (accurately, for once) aims for a speed camera that has surreptitiously taken his photo in a car chase segment. The fact that the car he is in happens to be suspended high in the air is another matter. The humour is slapstick and many of the laughs come from Atkinson’s wonderfully straight face and dead pan delivery. English takes himself so seriously, and the royal theme allows for some extravagant visuals including the Queen’s horse-driven coronation carriage, the Crown Jewels, crowds waving Union Jacks, plus a gag opportunity with one of the royal corgis. Everyone plays it straight, and with the characters so firmly established, even though the script is lacking, it still works on some levels. Malkovich overcooks his villain, but with an entertaining (and pretty hammy) French accent, while Imbruglia makes a fetching English girl (doesn’t sound quite as good as a Bond girl, does it?) and shows us a few sides of her (considerable) talents. Believe it or not, this zero does become a hero, and while Johnny English could have been an absolute blast, it nonetheless is a fun rocket ride of insanity.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Tragically disappointing, Johnny English is as funny as a slap in the face with a dead sea urchin, a comprehensive failure involving one of my favourite comic actors. Rowan Atkinson could do no wrong; until now. At least he isn’t blamed…er, credited, with the script. But he should have shredded it on sight. Another favourite actor of mine bites the comedy dust: John Malkovich as the French ponce baddie. Far too restrained for this escapade. Director Peter Hewitt is also guilty of sins of omission, allowing the opening set-up to establish Johnny English as a desk-bound nerd fantasising about the glamourous life of Secret Agent One. An evolution of Mr Bean. No sooner do we complete the mental picture than Johnny English is on assignment and more like a lame Maxwell Smart than a bumbling Mr Bean. This sets off alarm bells, and they don’t stop ringing as the script fumbles its way to clumsily spoofing the James Bond franchise. (James Bond after a frontal lobotomy, perhaps….) This poverty of imagination is revealed to be profound, as we chase Johnny through dreary simulations of Bond-ish scenarios, but without the wit required to make it funny. The only funny bits have been collated into the 2 minute trailer. And the sushi bar scene is funny. But such few laughs don’t make a full length comedy. Of course the reason I’m so negative about the film is that it fails to meet my expectations; that’s always disastrous, and no more so than in showbiz.
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JOHNNY ENGLISH (PG)
CAST: Rowan Atkinson, John Malkovich, Natalie Imbruglia, Ben Miller, Douglas McFerran, Tim Pigott-Smith, Kevin McNally, Radha Mitchell
PRODUCER: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Mark Huffam
DIRECTOR: Peter Howitt
SCRIPT: William Davies, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Remi Adefarasin
EDITOR: Robin Sales
MUSIC: Ed Shearmur
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Chris Seagers
RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 10, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
VIDEO RELEASE: September 3, 2003