Rowan Atkinson is sort of a mystery to me. I think the Black Adder series is pure genius, but his biggest claim to fame, Mr. Bean, does nothing for me. Well, except for the rare gem like this Christmas scene. That’s just hilarious. Anyhow, I wasn’t sure what to expect when my wife brought Johnny English back from the local library. It could have gone either way.
The story is pretty much what you’d expect for a Bond spoof; a world domination plot with the goofiness turned up to 11 and near inept protagonist. In this case, Atkinson as the titular Johnny English is promoted from mission planner to active agent after putting together a botched operation that results in the deaths of all British secret agents. Of course a new threat arises and Britain’s only hope is Johnny English. To lend Johnny a hand, Natalie Imbruglia pops in as a competent foreign agent in the mode of Vanessa Kensington from Austin Powers.
The threat comes from a crazy French businessman played by John Malkovich who wants to turn the UK into the world’s largest prison. It doesn’t seem like the most practical money making venture, but that would be part of the level 11 goofiness. The story is nothing spectacular, but it holds true to spy movie norms and does what is necessary to set up the comedy of errors.
The whole project was undoubtedly conceived around Atkinson’s ability to play the overconfident doofus and he delivers. Malkovich is way over the top as the supervillain, Sauvage, but is only mildly amusing at best. Imbruglia and Ben Miller are both adequate as sidekicks to English.
The movie is fairly standard Atkinson schtick dressed up with some solid spy sequences and surprisingly good stunt work. In fact, there’s a great hearse/tow truck chase scene that the guys making the Transporter movies could learn a bit from.