Johnny English

Spoofs of spy movies are a dime a dozen, but British actor Rowan Atkinson is not. Atkinson is a zany physical comic, with his impeccable timing and his bizarre, rubbery looks. He shot to fame with his Mr. Bean television series, and has since branched off into movies (Scooby-Doo, Rat Race). Atkinson usually plays up his physical comedy, which means playing similar characters in all his movies. A little bit of Atkinson is uproariously funny, and goes a long way. A full movie of him is a bit much, so Johnny English wears thin pretty quickly, despite Atkinson's considerable talent. Worse is that like many parodies, English throws out the gags lightning fast, knowing full well that many will fail. It just needs enough to work to ensure people think the film is funny, and there are not quite enough. Director Peter Howitt (AntiTrust, Sliding Doors) at one point literally uses toilet humor to try to inject some real comedy into the film.

There are a few hilarious moments, which is enough to save the film from being a complete disaster, but overall it is more a curiosity than anything else. Atkinson is a bumbling agent for MI-7, activated only because every other agent before him met an untimely death. English is the only person who can save England from Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich, The Dancer Upstairs, Knockaround Guys), a rich, slimy French businessman who wants to grab power using a scheme involving the theft of the crown jewels. English bumbles his way through the case, with the help of his assistant Bough (Ben Miller, Birthday Girl, The Parole Officer) and the alluring Lorna Campbell (pop singer Natalie Imbruglia). Although he cannot rebuild his gun properly, English still manages to move further along in the case.

Writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Die Another Day, The World is Not Enough) and William Davies (Ignition, The Guilty) are veterans of Bond movies, which in and of themselves are unintentional parodies. They know how to write movies like this, which run purely on formula. Even the parodies are getting old, and one expects Austin Powers or Leslie Nielson to show up. Johnny English inhabits its own little world where somebody as incompetent as English can succeed. This is the joke, and it would be funny if it were a little more original. Imbruglia is passable in her motion picture debut, but she doesn't really do anything. Malkovich is weird as Sauvage, but not as weird as he can be. And Atkinson, is Atkinson, and for better or worse, one knows exactly what to expect when going into Johnny English.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 28 minutes, Rated PG for comic nudity, some crude humor, and language.

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