Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Johnny English Reborn

After a failed mission in Mozambique, Special Agent Sir Johnny English has fled to Tibet to learn martial arts as penance. However, when MI7 come calling for him for a new mission, he answers the call and returns to London to a vastly changed MI7, with all new personnel running the show. English is informed of a plot to kill the Chinese prime minister, and it’s down to him to find out who the willing assassin is and to stop them. What he uncovers is a plot of deception, lies and former enemies. But how does his failed mission in Mozambique 5 years ago link in with everything?

Johnny English surfaced in 2003 and become one of those cult British comedy films with plenty of silly action and funny one-liners, all held together by a great performance by Rowan Atkinson. I liked it, and I wasn’t the only one, as it grossed over 160 million dollars worldwide. It seemed to be ripe material for the beginnings of a new British comedy franchise, and yet nothing ever came afterwards, it disappeared into the ether. Finally, though, 8 years later, Johnny English has been reborn in... Johnny English Reborn. It’s been 8 years since the original, so can this pick up where the original started, can the tale of an idiot spy still be funny after 8 years. Surprisingly, yes!

After a short pre-titles sequence in Tibet explaining what’s happened in between films, the action picks up and becomes its own film without hanging on to the past. Everything’s rather nicely explained and everything ties together by the end, there isn’t a single loose end left by the explanation of the 8 year gap. Reborn contains the same kind of humour we saw in the first, only with less excrement humour, and it hasn’t aged a bit. Seeing Atkinson back in form is great, and seeing him share screen time with Tim McInnnerny making silly jokes takes you back to the days of Blackadder and those great, classic British sitcoms which this film clearly takes it cues from (again).

Speaking of Atkinson, he’s great again in this playing an idiot, something he’s perfected over the last 30 years, and so delivers the lines with the pretence of seriousness, all the while knowing how ridiculous and silly his dialogue is. His comic timing is still spot on, and he carries the film on his shoulders. Gillian Anderson is solid as Pegasus, the leader of MI7, but nothing more than that, as she misses the stiff British attitude that her accent can only allude to. Rosamund Pike plays the love interest, and does that well, but isn’t really given enough dialogue or screen time to develop, certainly nowhere near as much time as Natalie Imbruglia was given in the first film. Dominic West plays Simon Ambrose, the suave Agent 1, and does so with flourishes of panache and he really takes glee in his role. Daniel Kaluuya also does OK as the young agent assigned to be English’s sidekick, but is no more impressive than that.

The one thing that’s missing from Reborn is Johnny’s original sidekick Bough, played by Ben Miller. Atkinson and Miller had some great chemistry in the original and it’s seriously lacking between Atkinson and Kaluuya, and Kaluuya isn’t given as big a role as Miller was, so he doesn’t get the sharp one-liners either which is a real shame. Also, the plot of the film itself is kind of a rehash of a number of spy/James Bond films, but then if Johnny English is a parody of those films, shouldn’t the plot be a parody as well, full of clich├ęs? The plot takes a number of twists which you should be able to see a mile off, and the film is full of Chekhov’s pistols (one for the film students there) throughout which set up various action points. There’s nothing surprising about this film, but a film like Johnny English isn’t truly about plot, it’s about dialogue and how funny that dialogue is. Thankfully, it surpasses the 5 laugh minimum a comedy needs, and although it isn’t a laugh riot from start to finish, there are a couple of laugh out loud moments, moments which are seriously lacking on most modern comedy films.

Overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable film, retaining that trademark British humour that the first one was based around. Obviously some of the jokes won’t travel well outside the UK, but then what does that matter when this is so clearly a British film made for a British audience. The obviously increased production budget allows for more stunts and special effects, and when you add those to the funny script, it creates a really nicely done parody of the James Bond/espionage film genre. All that said, this isn’t a great film, and to be honest, I’d rather not see a sequel to this. I think now that Johnny English has been reborn, he should fade away again before he dies a slow, painful death.

Rating: ***