(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, dated 1 October, 2011, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/entertainment/reviews/johnny-english-reborn/319216.html)
Cast: Rowan Atkinson, Dominic West, Gillian Anderson, Rosamund Pike, Daniel Kaluuya
Director: Oliver Parker
Rating: 3.5 stars
One doesn’t expect a tepid James Bond spoof to see a second edition, and one certainly does not expect it to be funnier than the first. But with Rowan Atkinson in the picture, a lukewarm script and predictable slapstick somehow come get trussed up into a watchable movie.
Starring as a bumbling English spy, in a character that seems to combine his roles from Blackadder and Mr. Bean, Atkinson has a little more help from the screenplay in the sequel than he did in the first Johnny English movie. He’s cooler, sleeker, older, and – according to his Eastern martial arts master – wiser.
The last time we met Johnny English, he exposed the bottom of the Archbishop of Canterbury and was accidentally crowned King of England, before being knighted in gratitude by the Queen for restoring her to her seat.
Eight years later, it turns out he’s been disgraced by a debacle at Mozambique, and has exiled himself to Tibet, where he’s been learning to lift weights with – uhh, shall we say, rather tender parts of his anatomy.
The MI7, however, needs his services again, after getting wind of a plot to assassinate the Chinese Premier. Incidentally, Johnny English supervised security at an event during which the President of Mozambique was shot dead. Clearly, experience counts.
Within the first five minutes of the film, you know it’s going to be better than the first. The subtlety that was sorely missing in Johnny English peeks out at times through the dominant physical comedy of its sequel. The other relative positives are the absence of John Malkovich’s (possibly deliberately) terrible French accent, and the wooden acting skills of Natalie Imbruglia.
Atkinson, who has elevated looking bewildered to an art form, has to pull out all his tricks for a movie that doesn’t do him justice. With his arch dialogue delivery, his floppy movements, and grotesque facial acrobatics, he makes you laugh even when you can smell what’s coming from a mile away.
When he returns to MI7, he discovers that the secret service is sponsored by Toshiba, which quite literally sells them out. Worse, his new boss Pamela Thornton (Gillian Anderson) tells him that “fast cars, guns and chauvinism” are on their way out. However, she’s trusted him with a Rolls Royce that obeys voice commands. Since his reputation precedes him, she also has psychiatrist Kate Sumner (Rosamund Pike) keeping an eye on him.
The movie spoofs old ladies, psychoanalysis, mind control, British manners and racial stereotypes. That’s enough material to keep the idle mind entertained through its ninety-minute duration. The slapstick factor comes from Atkinson’s ability to alternate smooth with goofy, whether he’s making his escape in a super-fast wheelchair or losing his footing above a hundred-metre drop.
Would the movie have been funny without Atkinson? Definitely not. More than thirty years after he established himself as one of the world’s best comedians, he is arguably the only one who can weave together farce and finesse in the same role. The script is a tired one, depending heavily on him to lift it.
As one leaves the movie hall, one finds oneself wishing someone would make a movie that requires Atkinson to do more than wiggle his nose, widen his eyes, and choke on his lips. A Blackadder movie, perhaps?
The Final Verdict: It may not be fresh, but it’s not boring. The movie doesn’t peg itself on toilet humour, and is a refreshing change from wannabe comedies that expect the audience to laugh when their cast members swear at each other. Except for a couple of scenes, the film is largely child-friendly. Don’t expect to have a stitch in your side, but snigger you will.