Rowan Atkinson as Johnny English
Natalie Imbruglia as Lorna Campbell
Ben Miller as Bough
John Malkovich as Pascal Sauvage
Tim Pigott-Smith as Pegasus
Kevin McNally as Prime Minister
Oliver Ford Davies as Archbishop of Canterbury
Douglas McFerran as Vendetta
Greg Wise as Number One
Steve Nicolson as Dieter Klein
Terence Harvey as Agent at funeral
Nina Young as Pegasus’s Secretary
Rowland Davies as Sir Anthony Chevenix
Tim Berrington as Roger
When all of the British Secret Service agents have been killed, England must turn to its last hope-and the last of its agents-the inept Johnny English (Mr. Bean‘s Rowan Atkinson). His first mission sends him after thieves who have stolen the royal crown jewels, leading him to Pascal Sauvage, a diabolical French businessman (Malkovich) who wants to take over the country with an elaborate plot to become king.
No question that the best part of this movie is Rowan Atkinson himself. Anyone who has seen the BBC classic, Blackadder, or his Mr. Bean shorts will already know that Atkinson is one of England’s funniest comics. Atkinson’s funniest comic trait is probably his ability to make hilarious facial reactions in response to his situations. The movie’s best jokes are the sight gags that showcase Atkinson’s physical humor, and while most of the humor will only appeal to the ignorant and the infantile, it’s almost impossible not to laugh at some of these moments. Few comic actors could make some of this movie’s most idiotic comedy bits work as well as he does.
Bouncing between a near perfect Bond impression and his usual clueless klutziness, Atkinson shows more range in this role than many of his other big screen appearances. Based on a character created for a series of British credit card commercials, Johnny English works better on the big screen than Bean, where Atkinson tried to put his eclectic character into a typical Hollywood fable. Johnny English is a spy spoof, plain and simple, and it never tries to be anything more than that. Like Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau, Johnny English is a great addition to Atkinson’s repertoire and it works.
English’s partner, Bough, is played by British comic Ben Miller, who does a decent job playing the straight man to Atkinson, even though his character is poorly developed otherwise.
Much to my surprise, there were a number of elaborate action sequences that harked back to the early Bond films and even Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible, although most of them were played up for laughs. One of the funniest moments includes a typical Bond spy car chase with one particularly unique twist.
What Didn’t Work:
Written by the writers of the last two James Bond films, the main plot doesn’t veer too far away from the Bond formula, although it doesn’t work beyond the comedy. The actions of the primary villain, Pascal Sauvage, make little sense, most of them done to setup one gag or another. After Sauvage steals the crown jewels and sets up an elaborate plan to have himself crowned king, his plans are quickly discarded and forgotten. The ending of the movie feels so thrown-together that it seems obvious that the writers had plenty of ideas for comedy vignettes without a real story to tie them together.
While the Bond writers have always been good at the double entendre, they’re not nearly as good at pulling off a straight comedy, even when spoofing themselves. They are some decent gag ideas, but most of them tend to sputter out pretty quickly as if they weren’t sure how to end the bit and get back to the story. Most of the jokes are telegraphed to the point where you can figure out exactly what’s going to happen from one minute to the next. When English announces that the ring on his finger injects a shot that makes you lose control of all your muscles, you just know that he’s going to get pricked with it. Despite knowing it’s going to happen, the results are no less hilarious due to Atkinson’s delivery
While it’s often good to have recurring jokes in a movie, some of them are overused, and for the most part, they are all obvious and of the low-brow variety, including a disgusting gag involving a certain bodily emission. Of course, because of the villain’s nationality, they throw in plenty of anti-French humor. Let’s not forget that the British didn’t like them long before us.
While Atkinson is certainly the best part of the movie, his performance is sometimes inconsistent. At his best, he’s doing a straight Bond impression or playing his normal bemused idiot. At his worst, he hams it up for the camera, trying to get more laughs to try to make up for the poor script and some pathetically bad performances by his co-stars.
John Malkovich has played some great movie villains in the past, and he’s usually well respected as an actor. In Johnny English, he takes on the most ridiculous faux-French accent, as well as an ugly wig, to create one of the worst movie villains, even for a spy spoof. Dr. Evil, he is not. His performance is embarrassing, and his scenes with Atkinson are some of the worst parts of the movie, particularly the climactic coronation scene.
Likewise, pop singer Natalia Imbruglia, is completely unbelievable as the double agent that assists English in his case. She’s obviously supposed to be playing a typical Bond girl, but she has none of the sexy allure of a Jinx or a Pussy Galore. Then again, she must be one of the best actresses in the world to make it seem like she has any romantic interest in Atkinson’s character whatsoever.
With all of the obvious humor that one would expect from yet another spy spoof, Johnny English effectively takes British comedy three steps backwards. While it isn’t nearly as funny as Austin Powers, it’s also not nearly as painfully stupid as Dana Carvey’s The Master of Disguise either. With that in mind, it works for what it’s meant to be-an hour-and-a-half of short, sharp laughs that can be enjoyed by anyone looking for mindless fun. Turn off your brain and enjoy it as a showcase of Atkinson’s talent.