OPENS FRIDAY APRIL 11th
Three out of Five stars
Running time: 100 mins
Much better than anyone had any right to expect, with Atkinson on top comic form and gags that come thick and fast – not bad for a film based on a character from a credit card commercial…
Remember the Barclaycard ads from a few years ago, with Rowan Atkinson as a bumbling government man and “Bough” (pronounced ‘Bof’), his calmly competent assistant? Did you think ‘Hey – I’d like to see a movie about those guys!’
No? Well, somebody did and the result, several years later, is Johnny English, directed by Peter ‘Sliding Doors’ Howitt. Surprisingly, however, Johnny English is a lot of fun – it’s well-directed, nicely played and has a pleasing hit rate of good gags.
Silly But Professional
The plot, like the film, is very silly but carried off professionally enough so that you’ll forgive its occasional lapses. When Britain’s best secret service agents are all tragically killed while attending a funeral, it falls to bumbling, day-dreaming low-level agent Johnny English (Atkinson) to foil a dastardly plan by Evil Frenchman Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich) to steal the Crown Jewels and de-throne the Queen.
He’s helped by his loyal assistant Bough (Ben Miller) and by Lorna Campbell (Natalie Imbruglia), a sexy undercover operative who may or may not be a double agent.
Atkinson is excellent and the film perfectly combines both his skill for Mr Bean-type physical comedy with his gift for the kind of verbal comedy that characterised both Blackadder and his stand-up material. However, although English is something of a delusional buffoon, he still emerges as an enormously likeable character – something very much lacking from Mr Bean.
As for Malkovich, it's easy to see why he agreed to do it, particularly in the later scenes. His ridiculously over-the-top French accent isn't as funny as it should have been (he’s gone for ‘practically unintelligible when he really should have Pythoned it) but he makes a good sneering villain, nonetheless. There’s also good support from Ben Miller and Natalie Imbruglia.
Excellent Directing And Superb Comic Timing
The film is extremely well-directed – Howitt proves adept at handling action sequences (an unusual car chase is a particular highlight) as well as the timing of the comedy scenes.
The main problem with the film is that almost all the gags are telegraphed horribly in advance, so that you frequently spend agonising minutes waiting for them. To be fair, however, when they do arrive, they are brilliantly executed – even the gags you’ve seen before in other movies (The Naked Gun etc).
All in all, then, there are some great gags, both verbal and visual, most of which hit their marks, ensuring a steady stream of chuckles and several laugh-out-loud moments. Also, one - very funny - scene aside, it's refreshingly free of toilet humour, which automatically places it head and shoulders above the two Austin Powers sequels. Another refreshing thing is that the trailer, for once, doesn’t give away the best gags, confining itself mostly to the first twenty minutes. Which makes a nice change.
In short, this is definitely worth watching. There’s a steady stream of
guaranteed laughs, Atkinson is hilarious and there’s even enough here to suggest that a sequel wouldn’t be entirely unwelcome. Recommended.