This spy spoof of all things Bondian, James Bondian, left little trace Stateside, but it scored big in Europe, hence the current sequel, JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN/’11. It’s a bit of a silly mess, but when it’s funny, it’s very funny. Rowan Atkinson is a mid-level clerk at MI-5 who gets to play secret agent when all the double-0s go down. Naturally, he’s a disaster who somehow manages to win the day with the help of a beautiful femme fatale spy & his trusty assistant. This came out just after the final AUSTIN POWERS and got mis-marketed as a rip-off. But it's more Peter Sellers/Blake Edwards PINK PANTHER than Mike Meyers redo, and infinitely better than Steve Martin’s sorry attempts to revive Clouseau. If only the ‘80s Bond pics weren’t already self-parody. Peter Howitt megs with almost too much pace, he doesn’t properly set up his gags, and the sexual attraction between Atkinson & Natalie Imbruglia’s vampy spy remains inexplicable. (Though the affectionate loyalty of sidekick Ben Miler is just great.) John Malkovich plays the super villain, a Frenchy who wants to be King of England, with the oddest French accent on record. Since Malkovich lives in France & speaks the language, this is . . . an attempt at humor? But it’s hard to care about what misses the mark during the three or four set pieces that really come off. Shriekingly funny stuff, even when you see what’s coming a mile away.* Atkinson’s best work may have been on tv: an early solo gig, Mr. Bean sketches, the glories of Black Adder, but the good bits in here are very welcome.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Is there a Comedy Corollary to Hitchcock’s Rule of Surprise vs Suspense? As he used to explain it, if a bomb explodes under a conference table, you get five seconds of surprise. But, let the audience know there’s a bomb under the table, and you can build up five, even ten minutes of suspense. So, if you see a joke coming, assuming that it’s well played, of course, do we get five extra minutes of anticipatory comic tension before the pay-off? Check out the first deleted scene on this DVD to see if knowledge of a coming joke whets the appetite . . . or dulls it.