Thursday, April 12, 2012

Johnny English Reborn -- silly spy spoof

Director: Oliver Parker, 2011. (PG) 

It’s been 8 years since Johnny English came out, more than enough time to have forgotten this silly British character. Now he returns in this spoof spy sequel that nonetheless stands alone. Once again Rowan Atkinson, who some might recall from British TV comedy as the Black Adder or Mr. Bean, reprises his eponymous role as Britain’s least intelligent spy.

Disgraced after a washed up mission in Mozambique, English has been retired and is rebuilding himself in Tibet as the movie opens, an obvious take-off of Bruce Wayne’s time in Tibet in Batman Begins. But he is recalled to England by Pegasus (Gillian Anderson), head of MI7 when she needs him to stop Vortex, an evil agency, from assassinating the Chinese premier. If it sounds like a James Bond movie, that’s because it is a clear parody of the 007 genre, down to the gadgets and the babes. In this case, the babe in question is the Kate (Rosamund Pike, An Education), a behavioral psychologist instructed to watch over English. Add to the plot the fact that there is a mole, or is that a vole, in the heart of MI7 and English doesn’t know who to trust. He is not even sure about his partner Agent Tucker (Daniel Kaluuya), a wet-behind-the –ears trainee who is not too young to go into the casino with him.

The plot itself is far-fetched with gaping holes, not least of which is the ever-present elderly Chinese woman, who is constantly seeking to kill English. But the film stands on the comic shoulders of Atkinson. The dialog and story might be weak, but his vaudeville humor is strong enough to make this work. Most of the fun is in the sight-gags, and these utilize Atkinson’s facial and body contortions to the max.

Moreover, the pacing is well timed and the comic-action scenes clever enough to suspend disbelief. Two chases stand out: the first is in Macau, across roof-tops and then up-river, with English taking a sage, if not athletic, approach to stopping a killer. The second finds English in a 60 mph wheel-chair driving through the center of London chased by MI7, who think he is the mole.

This is clearly a superficial film, mindless entertainment. There is no depth; there is no obvious redeeming quality. Yet, on the other hand, it is not filled with language and sex. If you like English humor, if you enjoyed Hot Fuzz, you’ll find this to be a jolly old romp. Turn on the mock violence and, as Johnny English says in his clipped English accent, “Let’s kick some bottom!”

Copyright©2012, Martin Baggs

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