×

Johnny English Reborn

More a resuscitation than a rebirth, British comedian Rowan Atkinson revives his spoof spy character with this enjoyable if somewhat wheezy reprise.

With:
Johnny English - Rowan Atkinson
Simon Ambrose - Dominic West
MI7 CEO, Pegasus - Gillian Anderson
Kate Sumner - Rosamund Pike
Agent Tucker - Daniel Kaluuya
Titus Fisher - Richard Schiff
Bough - Ben Miller
Elderly Asian Assassin - Pik Sen-lim
Master Ting Wang - Togo Igawa

More a resuscitation than a rebirth, “Johnny English Reborn” finds British comedian Rowan Atkinson reviving his spoof spy character with this enjoyable if somewhat wheezy reprise. A belated follow-up to the franchise’s 2003 opening installment, pic sticks to the James Bond spoof template in its story structure and use of exotic locales like Hong Kong and the Alps, and shows Atkinson’s flair for bodily and facial contortions can still generate family-friendly laffs. Pic’s Oz preem pre-empted the international release schedule by a few weeks; pic will roll out across Europe in early October, and Oct. 28 Stateside.

MI7-operative Johnny English (Atkinson) is recalled from a Tibetan monastery, to which the disgraced agent voluntarily retreated after botching a vital mission in Mozambique five years earlier. Opening sequences show a bearded, ponytailed English in martial-arts training, with results both predictable and unexpected. This sets the standard of humor to follow; much of the film frequently raises smiles, but substantial belly laughs are more sporadic.

Popular on Variety

Back at MI7’s London HQ, English finds the Blighty secret-service agency has a new CEO. In line with the Bond franchise, which replaced Bernard Lee with Judi Dench, English’s new boss is no-nonsense businesswoman Pegasus (Gillian Anderson, sporting a passable English accent), who has overseen the corporate privatization of the agency and its sale to a Japanese technology company.

Also quickly introduced are MI7 staff behavioral psychologist Kate Sumner (“Die Another Day” Bond girl Rosamund Pike) and English’s fellow agent and old friend Simon Ambrose (a smooth Dominic West), who wastes no time reminding English of his Mozambique disaster. Signaling his trauma, English’s right eye goes into spasm in synch with the soundtrack’s African drums every time Mozambique is mentioned.

Although several blunders — insulting the prime minister and beating up an innocent old woman among them — do nothing to endear the titular klutz to his new boss, English is sent to Hong Kong on a new mission. There, he’s paired up with junior Agent Tucker (Daniel Kaluuya), who, natch, is more on the ball than his mentor. In a Kowloon tenement, the two rendezvous with renegade CIA agent Titus Fisher (a gruff Richard Schiff), who reveals he’s part of a three-way alliance called Vortex, which possesses a chemical weapon of which one of his treacherous partners, an MI7 mole, seeks solitary control. English’s mishandling of the case sees both him and Tucker suspended from the operation, while the MI7 mole proceeds to frame the bumbling British spy for any mayhem he hasn’t caused.

Screenplay leans more heavily on the Bond films for inspiration than the first “Johnny English” pic did, winking at the “Goldfinger” golf game and sampling the snowmobile chase from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” Other references run rampant as well: The Tibetan monk in the opening sequence recalls “Kung Fu,” while English’s fights with an aging Asian assassin (Pik Sen-lim) derivatively recall his Gallic counterpart Inspector Clouseau’s battles with his own Eastern manservant.

Atkinson takes advantage of a souped-up wheelchair and a stunt team to provide comic action, but the gags that work best are the simple ones. English playing with lipstick while under the influence of an unpronounceable drug, or being unable to control the vertical function of an office chair, provide greater satisfaction than the more technology-derived stunts.

The other thesps hit their marks and make their characters as convincing as circumstances allow, but feel like wallpaper next to the star’s grin-inducing shenanigans. Less amusing is the (hopefully) unintended racist slur in which an arrogant English refers to his black sidekick as “You clever boy.” It’s a tacky moment in an otherwise inoffensive film.

While Atkinson’s timing remains impeccable, “St Trinian’s” helmer Oliver Parker has a tendency to undercut the comedic impact of all but the most obvious gags. Lensing by Danny Cohen lends the pic a shiny veneer and Ilan Eshkeri’s score plays it pretty straight, preferring to let the comedy speak for itself.

Johnny English Reborn

U.K.-U.S.

Production: A Universal (in U.S./U.K.) release presented in association with Relativity Media, StudioCanal of a Working Title production. (International sales: Universal Studios, Los Angeles.) Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Chris Clark. Executive producers, Liza Chasin, William Davies, Debra Hayward. Co-producer, Ronaldo Vasconcellos. Directed by Oliver Parker. Screenplay, Hamish McColl, based on a story by William Davies.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen, Super 35-to-35mm), Danny Cohen; editor, Guy Bensley; music, Ilan Eshkeri; production designer, Jim Clay; art directors, Paul Laugier, Mike Stallion; costume designer, Beatrix Aruna Pasztor; sound (Dolby Digital, Datasat, SDDS), Mark Holding; supervising sound editor, Glenn Freemantle; special effects supervisor, Mark Holt; stunt coordinator, Paul Herbert; assistant director, Ben Howarth; casting, Lucy Bevan. Reviewed at Cinema 3, Hoyts Entertainment Quarter, Sydney, Sept. 3, 2011. Running time: 101 MIN.

With: Johnny English - Rowan Atkinson
Simon Ambrose - Dominic West
MI7 CEO, Pegasus - Gillian Anderson
Kate Sumner - Rosamund Pike
Agent Tucker - Daniel Kaluuya
Titus Fisher - Richard Schiff
Bough - Ben Miller
Elderly Asian Assassin - Pik Sen-lim
Master Ting Wang - Togo Igawa(English, Mandarin dialogue)

More Film

  • 'Straight Up' Review: James Sweeney's Gay

    'Straight Up': Film Review

    There’s a tradition in movies, as vital as a hypnotic action scene or a swooning love scene, of dialogue so witty and nimble and rapid-fire that it comes at you like something out of a stylized dream. I first encountered that brand of high-velocity verbal jousting in “A Hard Day’s Night,” and later on in [...]

  • Cahiers du Cinema

    French Film Magazine Cahiers du Cinema's Staff Quits Over New Ownership

    The future of iconic French film publication Cahiers du Cinéma is in question after the outlet’s entire staff quit in protest over the brand’s new ownership. The 15-member editorial staff has spoken out against a perceived conflict of interest posed by the Cahier’s owners — a group of bankers, tech entrepreneurs and film producers that [...]

  • John Singleton Victoria Mahoney Spike Lee

    In Honor of Black History Month, a Look at Black Directors Who Made History

    In 2019, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative reported that 2018 was a historic year for black filmmakers, noting a “record high when it came to hiring black directors.” The report reflected a significant change, showing the push for diversity both behind and in front of the camera. Though the numbers are increasing, the report also [...]

  • Benh Zeitlin Wendy Movie BTS

    Benh Zeitlin Goes Old-School With Stunts and Puppets for His Peter Pan Film 'Wendy'

    It has taken eight years for Benh Zeitlin to deliver the follow-up to his Oscar-nominated 2012 feature debut “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” But you could say the idea for “Wendy,” which reimagines the classic “Peter Pan” from the viewpoint of his female friend (played by first-time actor Devin France), has been percolating far longer [...]

  • 'A Quiet Place 2' Still Emily

    Box Office: 'A Quiet Place 2' Tracking for $55 Million-Plus Debut

    John Krasinski’s follow-up to “A Quiet Place” is expected to make plenty of noise at the box office when it hits theaters on March 20. The sequel, “A Quiet Place Part II,” is on track to earn $55 million during opening weekend, according to early estimates. If the horror film is able to capture the [...]

  • The Invisible Man Movie

    How 'The Invisible' Man Reinvents the Monster Movie for a New Audience

    In 2018, director Leigh Whannell met with Universal Pictures executives, thinking that they wanted to talk about another project. Instead, they brought up a surprising idea, to reinvent H.G. Wells’ “The Invisible Man” as a stand-alone thriller targeted to a new generation.  The studio had just endured a dismal start to the reboot of its monster [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content