Johnny English Review
In 1983's unofficial James Bond film Never Say Never Again, Rowan Atkinson provided the comic relief as Nigel Small-Fawcett, a hopeless trainee agent who made Sean Connery's life a misery. Johnny English, who is more suave than Nigel but no less incompetent, started life in a series of Barclaycard adverts in the 1990s. He was the pretentious master spy whose more capable assistant Bough (Ben Miller) was always there to save the day with his handy credit card. Now Atkinson has expanded the character for a feature-length film with generally pleasing results.
Johnny is a very low-level bureaucrat at British Intelligence who dreams of becoming a field agent. He finally gets his chance when the agency's entire A-list is wiped out - largely thanks to Johnny but never mind! Assigned to protect the crown jewels, only to see them stolen from right under his nose, Johnny stumbles onto a nefarious scheme by French tycoon Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich). I won't spoil the details of the plot, which are as funny as anything in the film, but let's just say that readers of the more right-leaning tabloids will see their worst fears realised. The trouble is no one will listen to Johnny except the dependable Bough and mysterious beauty Lorna Campbell (Natalie Imbruglia).
Clocking in at 88 minutes, Johnny English is brisk, glossy entertainment which aims only to make you laugh and for the most part succeeds. While it doesn't hit the comic heights of the original Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery, whose success surely inspired it, it measures up to the two sequels and scores points by relying more on funny situations and less on gross-out humour, although four-year-olds will be relieved to know there are still references to bottoms and poo. Co-writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade actually wrote the last two James Bond films and sensibly they avoid the temptation to parody Bond, instead providing 007-style scenarios for Atkinson to make a fool of himself in. Director Peter Howitt stages the gags nicely and cinematographer Remi Adefarasin deserves a mention for making London look as good as I've ever seen it on film.
Rowan Atkinson is on top form, taking full advantage of his best cinematic showcase yet and, playing his straight man, Ben Miller's immaculate timing gets some big laughs too. You might suspect John Malkovich of taking another bad guy role for the money but he's disarmingly game for a laugh and sports the most outrageous French accent since the demise of Allo Allo. As the obligatory modern action babe, Aussie singer and former soap star Natalie Imbruglia has less to do but shows an appealing screen presence. There's not a lot more to say about Johnny English except that the occasional dry patches aren't too painful and the jokes amuse more often than not. Most of it's straight-up farce but there are some sly jabs at the French, New Labour and the monarchy. I'm still smiling at the way they got the Queen to sign that piece of paper.