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Johnny English (Atkinson) is a low-level agent at the British Secret Service when he's drafted to protect the Crown Jewels, which of course immediately go missing. He suspects billionaire French businessman Pascal Sauvage (Malkovich), but no one else seems to notice Sauvage's sinister plot for world domination. So working with his faithful sidekick (Miller) and a super-spy babe (Imbruglia), English tries to catch Sauvage in the act and put him behind bars. But the evil plot stretches all the way to the throne.
It doesn't sound too bad, especially for a parody in which plot is basically irrelevant. But the film isn't a parody! It's just Rowan Atkinson bumbling-slapstick comedy. The script doesn't have a single clever joke in it, no knowing jabs at the Bond oeuvre, no witty action scenes (with the possible exception of a loopy car chase through London), no cynical jabs at anything at all. It's plodding and predictable and very, very stupid, with only a few gags that make us smile, although the big climactic sequence is painful to watch. As is, everyone in the cast does a decent job.
Atkinson seems able to do this kind of thing in his sleep. He's funny, although it's nothing he hasn't done as Bean or Blackadder. Only Malkovich goes that extra bit further, with a hilariously poncy French accent. Otherwise, this is a sad waste of talent that could (and should) have been much better than it is.
dir Peter Howitt|
scr Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, William Davies
with Rowan Atkinson, Natalie Imbruglia, John Malkovich, Ben Miller, Tim Pigott-Smith, Oliver Ford Davies, Douglas McFerrin, Kevin McNally
release UK 11.Apr.03; US 8.Aug.03
Fishy innuendo. Atkinson and Imbruglia
Jax, Norway: "To be honest I was a bit disappointed. Ben Miller gets all the good lines, Malkovich's French accent is not funny, and Rowan barely manages to make it a good movie. But he does his best with a not-so-good script. Some bits are hilarious, some have been done to death. The plot is good, but all in all the script is the weak point! I at least hope that Rowan gets the recognition he deservs for his effort in this. OK film." (9.Apr.03)
Jo Caswell, West Sussex: "Despite entering the cinema with a heavy heart (this was not my film of choice) I did nothing but laugh out loud at this, from beginning to end. OK, it's a bit of a one-gag film, and John Malkovich's accent was - well - indescribable, but it is good, old-fashioned slapstick humour." (22.Apr.03)
John, USA: "I don't understand why Johnny English gets mixed reviews. It was hillarious! Any Bean fan will love this movie." (26.Apr.04)