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Johnny English (PG)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Making of; Self defence techniques; Character profiles; Observation tests; DVD-ROM extras: downloads, spy challenge, spy profiler, indentikit; Regions 2/4.

THE latest spy comedy to spoof James Bond comes in the unlikely form of Rowan Atkinson’s Johnny English - a character inspired by the actor’s former Barclaycard adverts, who is a surprisingly hilarious addition to the genre.

Johnny English is to the spy game, what Frank Spencer was to the human race - a total embarrassment. But thanks to some well-judged gags and Atkinson’s supremely deadpan delivery, his on-screen antics are likely to have audiences laughing out loud.

The movie picks up as MI-7 agent, English, inadvertently provides the catalyst for the murder of all of Britain’s top-level spies, forcing the government to turn to him in a bid to protect the Crown Jewels.

When they get stolen by John Malkovich’s French business magnate, Sauvage, however, it is left to English, his partner, Bough, and Natalie Imbruglia’s sassy Interpol agent to retrieve the priceless gems and prevent a threat to the monarchy itself.

As ludicrous as its premise sounds, much of the fun in Peter Howitt’s movie lies in finding ways for Atkinson and co to screw up, while working within the confines of the spy genre.

But scriptwriters, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, seem particularly well-equipped for poking fun at the 007 franchise, given that they also wrote Bond’s past two outings, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day.

 

Many of the early jokes, involving gadgets and secretaries, prove particularly well-observed, while the set pieces (all of which evoke memories of previous Bond outings) strike the right balance between subtlety and farce.

A car chase through the streets of London, for instance, rates among the most inventive I have seen for years, while several of the scenarios, while blindingly obvious, still manage to remain funny.

My only gripe would be that things tend to get a little too stupid towards the overblown finale, presumably to cater for the younger members of the audience, while Malkovich’s horrendously OTT villain appears to be auditioning for ‘Allo ‘Allo with his accent.

But this shouldn’t detract from Atkinson’s winning performance as English, which thankfully refrains from the crass stupidity of his previous Big Screen incarnation, Bean.

Given the right material, the former Blackadder star has long been an extremely gifted comedian, and his latest role provides him with a brilliant platform to showcase his deadpan delivery. You can’t help but find yourself laughing in his company.

And unlike another Bond-spoof, Austin Powers, Johnny English doesn’t rely too heavily on bodily functions to get mileage from its humour, preferring instead to play up to the strengths of its main performer - even though Mike Myers’ homage remains equally well-rounded fun.

In award-winning TV commercial form, the character of Johnny English lasted for 17 missions - don’t bet against him extending that run on cinema screens. This looks tailor-made for a franchise.

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