Johnny English


Directed by: Peter Howitt
Written by:William Davies, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Starring: Rowan Atkinson, John Malkovich, Natalie Imbruglia, Ben Miller, Douglas McFerran
Released: April 10, 2003
Grade: B-

There’s less than 80 minutes between the opening scene and the enjoyable moment when the closing credits start rolling.  It’s a quick in-and-out film which asks nothing of the audience and aside from a few witty one-liners, gives nothing in return.  Rowan Atkinson is most famous for his role as Bean (which was highlighted by a mildly successful 1997 film) and this new character (which was also crafted from the creators of Bean) isn’t half as funny or interesting.

Johnny English become a spy by default when all the agents at the department in which he works are killed in an explosion.  He is called upon to guard the crown jewels at a special unveiling but as expected, he blows the job.  Given the chance to redeem himself, he immediately suspects wealthy Frenchman Pascal Sauvage (Malkovich) but doesn’t have the evidence to support his theory.

With partner, Bough (Miller), and another curious damsel, Lorna (Imbruglia), he begins his investigation.  As you’d be well aware, it’s one “joke” after the other.  He bumbles through the case in the tradition of Austin Powers and The Naked Guy to wind up becoming the hero.

Like so many other comedies I’ve been critical of in the past few months, Johnny English is terribly unadventurous.  The punchlines to most of these jokes aren’t required because we’ve heard them before.  Don’t you hate someone telling you a joke when you already know how it ends?  That suffering in the forced laugh you would reply with is roughly equivalent to the experience of watching this film.  The three-man screenwriting team is well behind the times in terms of its material.

Australian singer Natalie Imbruglia makes her motion picture debut with little fanfare.  Her own lines require even less effort than the hammy material she delivered in her run on Neighbours ten years ago.  I will not be too hasty in judging her talents though as the limited screenplay clearly contributed to her performance.  I also hope dual Academy Award nominee John Malkovich regrets his involvement.  His accent is lame and the concept is just really, really stupid.

Helping this package stay together are a few select gags which do hit the mark.  Sadly, I emphasise these being the minority rather than the majority.  An idea which is funny for a few minutes doesn’t make a motion picture.  That’s the lesson here.