One of the great things about writing movie reviews is that it gets me to see movies I hadn’t really had much interest in seeing. Sometimes my lack of interest is justified, as with One Day. Other times, I’m pleasantly surprised as I was with Johnny English Reborn.
The movie is a sequel to 2003’s Johnny English, which I admit I never saw. It picks up some years after a botched mission that sent English into exile. After a plot to kill the Chinese premiere is uncovered, MI7 reinstates Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson) to track down their contact (Richard Schiff – The West Wing) and uncover who is behind the assassination attempt.
To keep him in line, English is partnered with Agent Tucker, played by Daniel Kaluuya. You may recognize Kaluuya from the original UK Skins. Overseeing them both is the hard nosed director of Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) who doesn’t care for English or his methods. The rest of the cast is filled out by a dashing fellow agent (Dominic West of The Hour), a love interest (former Bond Girl Rosamund Pike) and a laundry list of people who you will recognize if you watch as much British TV as I do. Together they make a very good ensemble and give just the right balance of seriousness and comedy.
Few would argue that Rowan Atkinson is one of the greatest physical comedic actors around. From Black Adder to Mr. Bean he has consistently brought laughs without the need of the “nudge, nudge, wink, wink – Look I’m being funny” that so many contemporary comedians rely on (I’m looking at you Jack Black and Mike Myers). The strength of Atkinson in this role is that he never once plays English for laughs. While English can be dense at times, he is still a character you can root for rather than ask yourself, “How did he ever become a spy?” The humor in most of the movie comes from everyone being serious in the face of ridiculous situations. There a few exceptions, but they weren’t bad enough to mar my enjoyment of the movie as a whole.
One of my favorite parts of Johnny English Reborn came early on in the first chase scene. The Bond and Bourne movies have made their money on elaborately staged fight scenes with characters jumping from building to building, scaling walls and all sorts of “how did they do that” choreography. In Johnny English Reborn, this chase is played out more like a “Pepe le Pew” cartoon with the bad guy running, jumping and leaping while English takes the much more practical routes to catch up with him. I was laughing through the entire sequence; as was the audience.
The movie wasn’t without its flaws. The romance between English and Pike served no other purpose than the fact that all spy movies have a romantic sub-plot. Some of the gags went a little long and therefore lost their humor. There is a small amount of crude humor, but refreshingly few curse words.
All in all, Johnny English Reborn is a fun and funny movie for the whole family.