The bumbling Rowan Atkinson returns in ‘Johnny English Reborn’
By BILL ZWECKER SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST October 19, 2011 5:58PM
A goofy British agent (Rowan Atkinson) does a fast draw with lipstick in “Johnny English Reborn.”
‘Johnny English Reborn’ ★★1/2
Johnny English Rowan Atkinson
Pegasus/Pamela Gillian Anderson
Kate Rosamund Pike
Ambrose/Agent One Dominic West
Agent Tucker Daniel Kaluuya
Universal presents a film directed by Oliver Parker. Written by Hamish McColl and Neal Purvis. Running time: 101 minutes. Rated PG (for mild action violence, rude humor, some language and brief sensuality). Opening Friday at local theaters.
Updated: January 23, 2012 4:27AM
With his two most famous characters, the endearingly bumbling Mr. Bean and his “007” spoof-meister Johnny English, British comic actor Rowan Atkinson has perfected the concept of the lovable, brilliant idiot.
Combining “brilliant” and “idiot” in the same sentence seems contradictory, but in Atkinson’s case, it seems like the best way to describe both Bean and English. Yet there is a difference. Mr. Bean often just does downright silly, stupid things, while Johnny English actually frequently surprises us by proving life experiences do pay off.
After an eight-year hiatus, Atkinson has reprised his James Bond-esque send-up with “Johnny English Reborn,” reintroducing the character at a particularly low point in his life. After being disgraced by a botched incident in the African nation of Mozambique involving the assassination of the country’s reform-minded president at his inauguration, the MI7 top spy is banished to a Tibetan monastery. It is there that we first find English in this sequel, honing his martial arts and mind-toughing skills under the tutelage of a stern monk. This fun, opening sequence allows Atkinson to showcase his propensity for physical comedy as he walks on hot coals or, uh, strengthens his male “equipment” by dragging around increasingly larger rocks — attached to his privates.
Suddenly, English is called back to London and to MI7 headquarters after the banished spy’s superiors learn of an attempt against the Chinese premier — a situation they reluctantly realize can only be handled by Johnny English.
Of course, with its purposely obvious homages to the whole James Bond franchise — with perhaps a touch of Jason Bourne thrown in for good measure — “Johnny English Reborn” is intended to be a pure spy genre farce, just like the original film.
The problem comes when the silliness fails to generate true belly laughs, and despite the efforts of Atkinson and his very accomplished supporting cast, only makes us smile or chuckle throughout most of the film. Unfortunately, you might even find yourself yawning a few times, especially during chase sequences that should have you roaring instead.
Yes, there are the usual Bond-like high-tech gadgets, including a very cool talking Rolls-Royce, outfitted with all kinds of bells and whistles, but “Reborn” ends up leaving us with a strong sense of “been there, done that.” More important, we can easily decipher the identity of the big traitor way too early — something that really should come during the movie’s final moments to have maximum impact.
Yes, “Reborn” does allow Atkinson to showcase his famously elastic facial gymnastics, but the acting skills of such talented performers as Rosamund Pike as a psychologist (and English’s love interest), Gillian Anderson as the MI7 director who is very anti-Johnny English and the spy’s MI7 rival/pal Dominic West are largely wasted.
One nice discovery is young actor Daniel Kaluuya, as Agent Tucker, who adds a lot of subtle humor as the very green new agent, assigned by MI7, to keep Johnny English from getting into trouble — of course with no success.
One of Johnny English’s favorite comments is, “Disaster may be an option, but failure never is” — an intentionally ridiculous line that is funny. Unfortunately, while “Johnny English Reborn” is certainly no disaster, it fails to completely engage us as the spy spoof that it was intended to be.