It’s easy to dismiss Johnny English Reborn as a belated cash-in sequel, dug out of the archives to put a few much-needed few quid into assorted people’s pockets. It’s not, after all, as if such a film was ever demanded, and the last time we checked Facebook, protest groups about a lack of Johnny English 2 were not in abundance.
There’s a good reason for that, too. Johnny English was not very good. Stretching out a character from a credit card commercial to feature length film met with inevitable critical results. Yet the film actually turned into a reasonably sizeable hit. Perhaps the only surprise should be that the sequel didn’t come sooner.
Yet watching it unfold on the big screen, you have to give credit where credit’s due. Even when working with sloppy material, and half-baked scenarios and gags, Rowan Atkinson is an immensely skilled and gifted comedy performer. He throws much of what he has at the role of Johnny English, and it’s his face-pulls, timing and tone of voice that give the film a little bit of life.
Furthermore, one or two players in the supporting cast, Dominic West in particular, are up for a bit of fun too. And while the likes of Gillian Anderson and The West Wing’s Richard Schiff are given crumbs of roles to work with, there’s little faulting the strength of the cast.
Oliver Parker’s direction, too, has its moments. He tried to capture the feel and flavour of a Bond movie in places, and his more action-centric sequences work reasonably well. He’s got some decent locations to work with at times, and his work here is far superior to his muddled St Trinian’s movies.
The problem, though, with full appreciation that comedy is a very subjective thing, is that Johnny English Reborn isn’t funny. At all.
It carries around a script chock-full of contrived set-ups and bad jokes, and it’s a lead weight around the movie. No matter how much gusto Rowan Atkinson throws himself into things, it’s a virtually mirth-free 100 minutes that you get for your money.
There’s nothing clever about the humour here, which isn’t a problem in itself, although it does fail to mine the many glorious opportunities that the Bond franchise in particular offers for spoofing. More damningly, even when it’s not trying to be clever, it can’t generate chuckles (it resorts to something that The Naked Gun did so much better, so many years ago, at one point). It’s a laboured British action comedy, that may just about entertain, but isn’t going to see those Facebook groups demanding a third movie anytime soon.
I should say, though, that not everyone at Den Of Geek agrees. Whilst the majority of those of us who have seen the film weren’t impressed at all, there was at least one vehement counter-argument. It might be that, seen with the right audience and with expectations low, you may get a lot of out of the film. Or it might just be that you love it anyway. As we said before, comedy really is subjective, and that’s very much the case with Johnny English Reborn, too.
But personally, in a year where The Inbetweeners Movie and Bridesmaids have shown that laughs of all kinds are possible to generate, I found Johnny English Reborn a real slog.
What’s most disappointing about it is that Rowan Atkinson, a genuine, first class comedy talent, continues to do work such as this and the Bean movies. For those who remember his stand-up, and his still-unmatched portrayal of Blackadder, that’s perhaps the most tragic thing of all.
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