MOVIE REVIEW: Johnny English Reborn

There are some movies that elevate your soul to wondrous heights (The Shawshank Redemption, Inception), while others make you so furious at the fact that you wasted even one minute of your time on them (Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, Showgirls).  Every now and again, though, there are movies where you leave the theater scratching your head as to why they even endeavored to make the movie – not in any anger or frustration, but more like a “what was the point of all that?” kind of questioning.  Johnny English Reborn is one of those movies to me.  Using a cooking analogy, Johnny English Reborn has all the ingredients for a decent steak; but when the cooking’s done, we’re somehow left with a corn dog instead.  If you feel that made no sense, don’t worry – Johnny English Reborn didn’t make much sense, either.

Here we have Rowan Atkinson, Dominic West, Gillian Anderson, Rosamund Pike and Richard Schiff – all talented actors, all with notable films and performances in their careers… and Johnny English Reborn manages to misuse all of them in this misguided sequel to 2003’s surprise box office hit.  And when I say “surprise box office hit”, I mean that it actually broke $160 million (turning a $120 million profit) despite negative critical reviews.  Also, when I say “misuse”, I mean that director Oliver Parker (1995’s Othello, Dorian Gray) doesn’t do anything clever enough or witty enough with the bevy of talent given him here.  The film falls into an unexciting coma and dies, complete with a half-hearted attempt at resurrecting it during the closing credits.  More on that later.  The point is: it’s just not funny enough to be considered a parody, which is defined by Merriam-Webster Online as:
1: a literary or musical work in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule
2: a feeble or ridiculous imitation
In the case of Johnny English Reborn, the emphasis should fall on “feeble”.  If you came expecting a funny movie, you’ll be disappointed.  If you came expecting something a little greater, you’ll share the same disappointment as the laugh-seekers.

The story during proceedings like this is negligible; it only serves as a flimsy construct around which everything else is based.  When this happens to movies (instead of the story driving the movie), it’s wise to check your brain at the door to the theater, because you’re not going to get much in the way of anything challenging.  The Johnny English series revolves around the eponymous character (Atkinson), as he weaves and fumbles his way in and out of situations straight out of the James Bond playbook, which include (but are not limited to) car chases, big fistfights in dangerous locales, a government agent’s betrayal, and other such staples of the spy film genre.  It also usually has something to do with getting one’s hands on any number of stolen or unobtainable objects, with many a red herring crossing the audience’s path.  And with Agent English’s bumbling antics, we grow more and more exasperated as he wrongheadedly flies in the face of everything correct and logical, to the point where it just becomes too much and evolves from parody into something just intolerable.

Oliver Parker has made an underwhelmingly indecipherable movie; too straight to be a comedy and too slapstick to be an action movie, Johnny English Reborn spends its waking moments in a strange netherworld.  It wants to take itself seriously and be a straightforward spy movie, but it wants so desperately to be funny.  The scene during the end credits is a fine example of this – it’s a deleted gag from an earlier dinner scene between English and Kate Sumner (Pike), where he offers to do anything for her help, and she says, “A takeaway would be nice.”  Instead of takeaway, English goes into her kitchen, fires up Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” on her CD player, and proceeds to cook a beautiful meal with his movements timed perfectly to the music.  Now, should that be funny?  And why was it included in the movie in the first place?  There’s no punchline, no humor, no nothing – it’s just there, which is all that can be said about the movie itself.  It’s not good enough to warrant any praise, yet it’s not bad enough to warrant any ire.  It’s just… there.


Reel Film News Movie Review by Eddie Pasa

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