When “Johnny English” first opened in theaters last year, it was so universally panned by critics that its star reportedly admitted himself into a clinic for depression; yet it was the fifth highest grossing film in Britain. Obviously, audiences enjoyed the movie and, indeed, “Johnny English” does have several things going for it.
First, there is the genius of lead actor Rowan Atkinson who, in his groundbreaking 1989 television series “Mr. Bean,” once delivered almost 15 minutes of silent hilarity out of the simple act of taking a test. Second, there is the natural innocence of the film. This is a true family film that feels childlike, without (most of the time) being childish. Two scenes, however, boast brief nudity; one involves English who, while driving his car, hangs out of the door long enough to moon a traffic video camera (a scene which, I imagine, instigated uproarious applause in the UK, where those invasive cameras can be found everywhere).
“Johnny English” also has marks against it. First, it is a spoof of spy movies and, frankly, we’ve seen enough of those already. Second, this is purely British humor, which is, to those unaccustomed to it (read: Western audiences), unusually restrained and broad. The scene that sets the plot has English standing in front of a massive tunnel that has been blasted into a wall, while wondering aloud how thieves entered the room to steal the Crown Jewels. Either you like this sort of humor or you don’t. I do.
Pros:Moronic, semi-juvenile slapstick humor that you’ll love if you’re into that sort of thing…
Cons: …but hate if you’re not.
Review Rating: 3 out of 5 London Bridges.
“Johnny English” (2003)
88 Minutes; UK
Rated PG for comic nudity, some crude humor and language.
Rowan Atkinson (Johnny English)
Tasha de Vasconcelos (Countess Alexandra)
Ben Miller (Bough)
John Malkovich (Pascal Sauvage)
Douglas McFerran (Carlos Vendetta)
Steve Nicolson (Dieter Klein)
Directed by: Peter Howitt
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and William Davies
Viewing Format: Theatrical Release
(Portions of this review originally appeared in my “Video View” newspaper column of 1/14/’04)