Johnny English Review
Johnny English began life more than a decade ago as a series of Barclaycard adverts starring Rowan Atkinson as a dangerously inept spy, and it seems somewhere in the years since somebody thought it would be a good idea to expand them to feature length. A brave move, most TV series have trouble expanding their premise to fill a movie, let alone one of the adverts that fills their breaks doing so.
The first time we encounter Johnny he appears to be expertly assaulting a guarded mansion, diverting the dogs, disabling the alarm, disarming the guards, even getting the girl, quite a step up from hiss bumbling origins. It soon becomes clear however, that this is all a product of Johnny's imagination and his is still in fact an accident-prone liability, which is why he sits behind a desk for MI-7 rather than in the field – in spite of his years of service.
Circumstances seem to be in his favour though, as a terrible tragedy wipes out every other spy in England leaving Johnny the only man for the awfully important job of protecting the Crown Jewels. It seems a plot is afoot to steal them on the night of their unveiling, having just been restored, and Johnny is assigned to guard both the jewels and the aristocrats attending the ceremony. The complex security system should be all the back up he requires, surely nobody could defeat both it and English? But somehow they are both defeated, and now English and his trusty assistant Bough (that’s Boff to you and me) have to discover the identity of the master criminal, along with foiling plots to depose the Queen and kidnap the Archbishop of Canterbury. All of which are a means to accomplish a plan that would really make John Carpenter proud.
This is the first film Atkinson has headlined since the success of Bean, which got the tills ringing on both sides of the Atlantic, so it’s odd he took so long to find another starring role. Unfortunately Johnny English isn’t a vehicle entirely worthy of his talents as the script is far too lightweight to become a comedy classic. There’s no doubt Atkinson still has his gift for physical comedy, and this is where the majority of the films genuine laughs come from, as his stock pratfalls and vacant expressions prove that some things will always be funny. The one liners are far less effective though, and you’ll be hard pushed to remember a quotable line from the film, it really is a script that could have done with a few more rewrites before arriving on the screen.
The supporting cast do what they can with the material, Ben Miller as English’s assistant Bough being the stand out, his reactions to Johnny’s idiocy often seeming like the punch-line itself rather than a follow up, but he’s still rather underused. John Malkovich seems to have finally found a decent use for his ability to provide totally unconvincing foreign accents as he hams it up as Pascal Sauvage - the Frenchman English believes to be the villain behind the jewellery theft - you couldn’t wish for a more over the top nemesis. Natalie Imbruglia also does a reasonable job as she returns to acting, a pedigree in Neighbours and a following pop career would suggest she would have been much worse, playing an alleged jewel restorer who may well be more involved in the dastardly plot than she appears.
But while the first hour of the film manages to pass by in a mildly entertaining fashion things really start to fall apart as we reach the final third. The comedy descends to the level of repeated scatological humour that will doubtlessly amuse the under eights and when a huge portion of the film’s finale is stolen wholesale from Naked Gun 33 1/3 things really start to look desperate, and any hope of the film rescuing itself is lost. It isn’t without its good points, the cross-London chase of a hurse which involves English’s encounter with a traffic camera will probably inspire cheers from the audience, and the films broader approach to spoofing the spy genre should be commended - you don’t have to have seen every Bond film to enjoy Johnny English’s high points. Ultimately though it feels rushed, which is odd as nobody was demanding - or even expecting - this to be produced. Maybe they should have taken a cue from another advert, and not made it until it was ready.
As you’d expect from such a new film the image is clean and crisp throughout, there is an occasional shimmer to the picture, and I did notice some very minor dirt marks, but this is nit picking at an excellent transfer.
Universal have provided both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtracks for this release, but once again the DTS is only half rate on a disc with plenty of free space, which largely defeats the purpose of the format. At least they’ve gone to town on the sound design, as the soundfield is incredibly active, with hardly an opportunity for speaker activity squandered. The LFE is put to excellent use throughout, with every explosion and burst of gunfire triggering a satisfying rumble, with a shoot out in a multi-storey car park providing the audio highlight of the film, with bullets ricocheting and gunshots echoing all around you.
The Making of Johnny English
This half hour made-for-TV look behind the scenes seems to be rather confused as to what its audience really is. Coming off as more of an informercial designed to entice cinema goers into parting with their cash it goes on to reveal a large portion of the films plot and climactic scenes, which obviously would really be more suited to an audience that had already seen the film. It doesn’t offer much information for those viewers either, glossing over the origins and its route to the screen to show us a few looks at effects shots in puddle-like depth before exposing the action of the finale. Far from the best documentary I’ve seen, and the fact they didn’t even remove the title cards for the commercial break is typical of the thought that has gone into these extras.
Brief character profiles are given for Johnny English, Pascal Sauvage, Lorna Campbell and Bough. These consist of fascinating facts, such as Johnny’s biggest weaknesses being women, and himself, as well as containing details of their favourite gadgets and so forth, it’s kind of like a little Johnny English set of top trumps, just far less fun.
Observation Test – leading to - Deleted Scenes
Answering a series of five rather simple questions about clips from the film will take you to a selection of deleted scenes, which would doubtless be a tiresome way of accessing them if you wanted to watch them repeatedly, so it’s a good thing you won’t. The bulk of the scenes focus on a meeting between Pascal Sauvage and a Lord who has a claim to the throne, at least he will if a few dozen members of the royal family are killed. The problem with the scenes is the Lord was played by Rowan Atkinson, and audiences were naturally confused as to whether this was meant to be English in disguise or not so they had to go. They are only mildly amusing, but still the best of these, all of which are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen with stereo sound.
The film is a disappointment, but not quite a disaster, and the same can be said of the disc. While the films presentation is excellent, the extras are little more than perfunctory. The film has been one of the biggest earners at the box office in the UK so far this year, it deserves more than this. Where are the commentaries? Where is the interview with the writers about their inspiration for adapting this to the big screen, or the pros and cons of having such little source material to work with? Most noticeably, where are the adverts themselves? They are glimpsed in the documentary but only in part and I remember there being more of them in the campaign. The exclusion of even these, the most logical of extras, shows how little effort went into the disc, making this a rather disappointing package for those that actually enjoyed the film.