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Archive for Friday, July 18, 2003

Silly ‘English’ skewers Bond

July 18, 2003

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One of the reasons the MPAA gave "Johnny English" a PG rating was because of "comic nudity."

Comic nudity? I wasn't exactly sure what that meant until watching a scene where the title character makes a painfully erroneous blunder in front of a large audience and covers by apologizing, "So I was wrong about the archbishop's bottom."

"Johnny English," the latest from "Mr. Bean" star Rowan Atkinson, isn't a great movie, or even that good a comedy. But somehow the flick's monumental silliness offsets its shortcomings. There are at least a couple dozen laugh-out-loud moments in this secret agent parody -- not the least of which involves the influential clergyman's bare backside.

In the film, Atkinson expands on the character he popularized in a series of TV commercials for Barclaycard in the U.K. He plays an MI6 middle manager elevated to "00" status after all the frontline operatives are assassinated. Together with his loyal sidekick Bough (Ben Miller) and a beautiful Interpol agent (pop singer Natalie Imbruglia), he happens upon a scheme by a wealthy Frenchman (John Malkovich) to accede to the throne of England.

While "Johnny English" may be a send-up of the James Bond franchise, Atkinson's protagonist has more in common with Inspector Clouseau from "The Pink Panther" series. English's knack for bumbling is matched only by his pomposity.

"The word mistake is not one that appears in my dictionary," he tells a superior.

This leads to scenes in which he interrupts a legitimate funeral because he suspects the casket contains contraband. He proceeds to grill the grieving family in an attempt to extract a confession. Or how about a moment when he mixes up his trusty knock-out dart with his sodium pentathol dart.

Rowan Atkinson stars as a pompous, blundering, British secret agent
in the comedy "Johnny English."

Rowan Atkinson stars as a pompous, blundering, British secret agent in the comedy "Johnny English."

At least his long-suffering apprentice Bough is there to bail him out. As at the funeral, the pair of actors share a few nicely timed scenes together. And while Bough understands his boss' imperfections, he seems to go along with the man anyway because of some innate duty to follow the chain of bureaucracy.

Unlike Clouseau, however, English possesses enough useful skills to make his transition into field agent easier to swallow. It's not that he can't make a nighttime parachute jump in order to break into a well-guarded skyscraper, it's just that he executes it with technical precision but unknowingly lands on a neighboring building.

This all leads to a conclusion that is so ridiculous the actors are practically winking at the camera. Even the eccentric Malkovich (sporting an extra-annoying accent) can't help but look befuddled by the royal shenanigans taking place around him.

While the movie's ending doesn't amount to much -- and the epilogue with its telegraphed ejector seat gag is a real groaner -- "Johnny English" is still one of the better cinematic endeavors that Atkinson has been party to lately. His last three duds of "Scooby-Doo," "Rat Race" and the big-screen adaptation of TV's "Bean" don't have the combined laughs of this project.

If only he had tackled this subject matter a few years before the "Austin Powers" trilogy ran it into the ground, Atkinson might have really been on to something.

Additionally, of special note is the picture's title song, "A Man For All Seasons," by Robbie Williams. This hip secret agent ditty ("Queen and country safe and sound/With villains six feet underground") is more memorable than the last half dozen Bond themes.





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