Johnny English (2003)

Directed by Peter Howitt

This is one of those movies you really want to like but you just can’t for the simple reason it isn’t very good. It’s basically a fun idea that wasn’t fleshed out very well.

Ultimately, it’s a series of comic scenes that are loosely, very loosely, strung together.

So what went wrong? I think the answer is pretty simple: No one knows what to do with this kind of Rowan Atkinson character after the first thirty minutes.

His Johnny in Johnny English is only a slight variation of his Mr. Bean. And that character really only works in a half hour installment.

In Johnny English, Atkinson plays a bumbling James Bond style spy – sort of Mr. Bean as 007. As a comic idea, this is a great one.

The problem, however, is no comedy runs for 90 minutes of continuous laughs. It needs something to connect the jokes – a storyline and characters.

But this kind of character doesn’t lend itself to great depth so when the slapstick moment passes, what is there to hold our interest?

(It’s interesting to note that one of the writers, Neal Purvis, has also worked on Bond movies: Die Another Day and The World Is Not Enough.)

The thing of it is that Atkinson is so very good and very versatile. I think he can be as good dramatically as he is comedically. But there is nothing for him to work with here and, even if there were something, it would be jarring against the bumbling Mr. Bean-as-spy performance.

It reminds me a great deal of Peter Seller’s Inspector Clousseau in the Pink Panther movies. Though many love them, I always find they have the same problem. What happens when Clousseau is off screen or when a moment comes when he shouldn’t be funny? The answer is nothing.

Still, Johnny English does have its great, laugh-out-loud moments. It’s just that they’re only tenuously connected and those connections are dull at best.

© 2003 Piddleville Inc.

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