01/25/2004: "Johnny English: Yeah, Whatever."
|AMP|#160;|AMP|#160;By and large I am not someone that is easy to displease when it comes to movies. In fact, there are only a few movies that I can think of that I've been exposed to in my entire life that really stand out as unwatchable. In other words, I'm pretty much exactly the kind of guy directors and screenwriters want: someone that will lap up every spoonful of Hollywood goodness that is put in front of me, and leave really feeling something, exclaiming how great and enjoyable a movie it was. I'm pretty easy going when it comes to books too. Dish it out and hook me, and I'll want to consume the entire book in one sitting. I'm such an accepting and enthusiastic audience that it's painfully clear when something is just not right.
The mediocrity I'm talking about is Johnny English, Rowan Atkinson's latest non-Bean action-comedy. Johnny English is a bungling secret agent wanna-be with British Intelligence until he manages to get all other English secret agents killed accidentally. He's the only one left, and thereby defaults to the status of the top secret agent in the ministry. He gets an assignment, and the ego-fed buffoonery of Johnny English ensues. The trailers made it seem like a great movie concept, but the movie sadly doesn't measure up to its own potential.
The first thing I noticed about the movie was the editing. Namely, the trailers I saw showed many scenes that originally came after the sabotaged funeral and before English actually shows up to work for the first time after his impromptu promotion. It wasn't just that these scenes had been deleted, but the fact that these were scenes that may have been a lot funnier than the rest of the movie. Their loss really brings the whole work down a notch. Perhaps director Peter Howitt realized that these scenes stole the entire show, and thus leveled the playing field for the rest of the film. Our loss.
What happened next was predictability. English, high on his new position and allowing his ego to run rampant, finds himself in a number of awkward situations, lending themselves to comedic relief. Unfortunately, time after time I could see the gag coming miles down the road, and had to sit there, waiting for the gag to arrive. When it finally did, instead of being able to enjoy it I simply wanted the movie to move on, at a pace more suitable to an action and/or comedy. Quite simply, there were no great zingers, no memorable Bond-esque lines, and Atkinson's comedic talents as Mr. Bean were simply poorly used.
Highlights of this movie include John Malkovich as supervillan Frenchman Pascal Sauvage, a really nice English sports car, a pretty woman, and a happy, well-deserved ending for poor old Johnny English. While it's a nice spoof on the spy genre, specifically all things Bond, it could certainly use improvement. The plot could have been streamlined to be less cumbersome: we know what Sauvage is going to do, but it's never quite clear why he's doing it, and his master plan is cloudy. The pace of the gags needs some serious time management courses, as all the funny is simply drained out while you're waiting for things to make you laugh.
The Internet Movie Database gives Johnny English an average-ish 6/10 stars, and I'd be inclined to agree. A great concept with a renowned actor should make for an enjoyable movie, but it just didn't happen. You know a movie just doesn't have your attention when you feel the urge to get up and put the popcorn bowl away in the middle of the action.
You may be asking yourself, "Why is he reviewing a movie that's been out of theatres for a long time, and is even available to rent? Don't movie critics usually review current movies?" You'd have a good point. Instead of reviewing a safe family-action-comedy like Johnny English I should be out watching The Butterfly Effect or something, right? Well, welcome to the reality of being a parent to a young child. The last movie I saw in theatres was Finding Nemo, which itself was the first time I'd been inside a cinema since my daughter was born. Thereby, my wife and I live our feature film life by what's available to rent on VHS. (I hang my head and admit that we don't even have a DVD player yet.) Johnny English is a fairly new release - so far as I can tell - and out of the available quickly shrinking VHS New Releases section in our local video rental store, it seemed like the pick most likely to please both my wife and I.
That is not the full extend of my reasoning, however. I am extremely easy to please when it comes to movies. Nearly unilaterally when we bring a movie home I enjoy the experience. There have been very few times that I simply haven't been able to enjoy a movie, and only one time that I've refused to finish a film (Birdcage with Robin Williams, if you're morbidly curious). Perhaps it's my disappointment talking, but I was so let down by this movie that I simply felt the need to let people know that Johnny English really isn't what they're hoping it will be. Yes, it's a spy movie, and a spy movie spoof at that, and it's got Rowan Atkinson in it. If you're after a bit of light-hearted fluff, this movie's for you. If you're looking for a sharp, funny performance from Atkinson or anyone else in this film, rent Finding Nemo instead. You may not get to see the Archbishop's bum, but you won't feel the need to leave, either.