Universal // 2011 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // March 5th, 2012
One man. One mission. No chance.
In 2003, English funnyman and talented actor Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) slipped into the role of a clumsy British spy embarking on a perilous mission to save his beloved country. Johnny English, named after Atkinson's character, desperately tried to become a memorable entry into the genre of spy spoofs, but despite making a decent profit at the worldwide box office, the action comedy failed to score critical acclaim. Instead, English's supposedly hilarious adventures lacked energy and suspense, suffering from a rather bland script and watered-down humor to appeal to a larger, family friendly audience.
Although there was absolutely no reason to even think about a sequel, someone out there thought it a genius idea to resurrect Johnny English and give it another shot. Eight years later, Atkinson is back in Oliver Parker's Johnny English Reborn, another wannabe James Bond spoof falling victim to predictable, monotonous storytelling and the absence of big laughs. Although not a total disaster, what should've been a step up from a previous disappointment is ultimately nothing but a mediocre comedy that might as well have remained unborn.
After an embarrassing faux pas on a mission in Mozambique, Johnny English left his career as spy behind and decided to take shelter in Tibet, where he's been passionately following the teachings of monks. Now that a group of evil assassins are plotting to kill a Chinese politician, MI7 is in desperate need to reinstate English. Their informant will only talk to him, teasing the secret service organization with valuable intelligence that could lead them to the villains. English, of course, complies without complaining. After a brief meeting with MI7 leader Pegasus (Gillian Anderson, The X-Files), he quickly finds himself back in the field, trying to save the world from impending political turmoil.
Successfully spoofing the spy genre has become significantly more difficult over the years. Despite obvious effort, Johnny English Reborn won't go down as a memorable action comedy. Young spectators with low expectations may pull a bunch of laughs from Atkinson's ability to deliver silly facial expressions and adequately portray an utterly clumsy character, but I simply can't imagine anyone else falling for the movie's awkward comic timing and superficial plot. Clever storytelling plays a crucial factor in how original and hilarious a project like this turns out to be, but Johnny English's second adventure can't help but succumbing to messy writing and a few annoying inconsistencies when it comes to character development.
Truth be told, I had a major problem with the reborn Johnny English character, primarily because the film doesn't really give him a proper opportunity to connect with his viewers. Rooting for him becomes quite difficult, considering that his attitude and behavior constantly switch between clumsy, incompetent spy and highly intelligent action hero. This is what I mean when I say English has become an inconsistent character. One second he displays an utter lack of knowledge and expertise, and the next he's jumping over his hurdles without even losing a breath. Maybe it was screenwriter Hamish McColl's intention to create such a character, but the new Johnny English just doesn't add much to plate this time.
Atkinson is a dab hand at what he does, but the humor in Johnny English Reborn falls flat throughout. Johnny does find himself in a few rather amusing situations, but all in all, a whole lot of jokes end up misfiring. McColl's dialogue lacks energy and wit, and Atkinson's funny faces and awkward postures are only funny for so long. You would think both action and comedy would be taken to higher levels as the story progresses, but nothing English encounters on his journey really sticks out. Suspense is mostly absent, and the plot, as chaotic as it is, feels too much like a simple assemblage of individual scenes in pursuit of an actual, full-fledged story.
That said, in addition to select mildly funny moments, Johnny English Reborn boasts a pair of entertaining action sequences: a wild pursuit involving a high-speed wheelchair and a decent showdown resembling the epic aerial tramway battle in the classic James Bond flick Moonraker. As much as it pains me to say this, the remaining battles or confrontations our spy encounters range from passable to forgettable.
Forgettable is also an appropriate term to describe the film's supporting characters. After rejoining MI7, Johnny teams up with a guy named Tucker (Daniel Kaluuya, Skins), who's supposed to act as his partner but ends up adding absolutely nothing to the story. Sidekicks often remain underdeveloped in films with messy plots, but Tucker is one of the most unoriginal characters you've met in a while. Rosamund Pike acts as English's love interest, but even she feels out of place. Dominic West and Gillian Anderson, despite solid performances, can't seem to improve things, either.
This time around, Johnny English is going places. Luckily for us spectators, the spots he visits add at least a touch of variety to the film. From Hong Kong to the Alps, the locations turn out to be one of the more compelling aspects of Johnny English Reborn. The set pieces look gorgeous, the folks in art direction did a fantastic job, and other production values are extremely high as well. The script may be quite a disaster, but from a technical point of view, the filmmakers created quite a visually compelling movie.
This also ties into the gorgeous look of film in high definition. The Blu-ray disc boasts a strong 2.35:1/1080p transfer of the feature, complete with stellar clarity, strong colors and an overall crisp, clean image. In the audio department, you'll come across a superb 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track your ears will certainly cherish. Even in terms of bonus material, this Blu-ray edition is loaded. Besides deleted and extended scenes with intros by Parker, the specials include a decent gag reel, a few smaller featurettes, an interesting 25-minute behind-the-scenes look, and a feature commentary with Parker and McColl. The set also includes a digital copy and standard definition version of the film.
Johnny English Reborn (Blu-ray) may deliver a few smiles, but that's about as exciting as it gets. Rowan Atkinson still has what it takes to do what he does best, but he deserves a better script and a better character. He's very selective when it comes to picking projects, and I simply don't understand what motivated him to agree to do this. This sequel is by far not as bad as other sequels out there, but then again, it doesn't offer anything we haven't seen already. It's a familiar problem that just doesn't seem to go away -- unless sequels cease to happen, of course. Either way, no need for a rebirth here.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Official Site