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Johnny English

Bean, James Bean

Neither as shagadelic as Austin Powers nor as accomplished as James Bond, Johnny English occupies that strange domain where incredible stupidity, odd looks, and blind luck combine forces to overwhelm and undermine pernicious evildoers.

Johnny English covers the same worn ground that dozens of spy flick parodies have trod before, from Our Man Flint to Agent Cody Banks. What makes this one a cut above the average is the considerable talent of Rowan Atkinson in the title role, a man who knows how to run with a gag until he's just about to trip over it - all the while looking simultaneously suave and stupid.

The story is hardly worth recounting. It's so illogical and fabricated, in fact, that it would bore you to explain everything coherently. Besides, spoofs preclude the need to examine storylines. Suffice it to say, after a bomb kills all of England's secret agents, thanks in no small part to the inept security provided by a certain funny looking man, MI5 bestows a plumb assignment on the only surviving agent - namely, that funny looking man (Atkinson). Johnny English's task: To guard the crown jewels during a VIP function hosted by Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich), a French tycoon who sponsored the jewels' recent restoration. Naturally, they disappear. English suspects Sauvage and sets out to prove it, as well as expose his scheme to steal the throne from Queen Elizabeth. (Ignore the laws of British sovereignty, please, or your head will hurt.)

Despite the semblance of a story, Johnny English is actually a series of ridiculous skits sewn together. As English attempts to get to the bottom of Sauvage's shenanigans, he encounters increasingly preposterous situations that expose his utter buffoonery. Due in large part to the effectiveness of his tireless, loyal assistant (Ben Miller), however, English extricates himself from disaster only slightly shaken, somewhat stirred, and sort of humiliated. Along the way they encounter mysterious Interpol agent Lorna Campbell (Natalie Imbruglia), whose role is largely to save English at opportune times, kick some ass, and provide an attractive female presence in this otherwise male-dominated farce.

As fans of the "Mr. Bean" TV series well know, Atkinson dependably keeps a straight face in the midst of loony situations. Johnny English relies on that ability, not to mention his incongruous looks, to supply most of its comedy. Unfortunately, Malkovich's French accent is so horrible that it detracts from what could have been a masterfully villainous performance. (Was Gérard Depardieu too busy?) I feel sorry for Malkovich's neighbors in Aix-en-Provence, where he lives, if his French sounds anything as awful as the accent he uses here.

I'm not easily moved to guffaws by onscreen antics, but Johnny English concocts some comedic situations that merit a hearty laugh. Normally there's a great divide between potty humor and sophisticated drollery but this film successfully straddles the middle ground, even if it leaves room for improvement. Let's just hope this Johnny English caper remains a one-hit wonder instead of spawning a tiresome franchise.


Johnny English
Rated PG
1 hour 28 minutes

Rowan Atkinson
Natalie Imbruglia
Ben Miller
John Malkovich