Johnny English: Non-Stop Laughter
Rob Levy
7/21/2003 2:27:01 PM

Rowan Atkinson is a genius. For two decades, his slapstick humor and glib tongue have made him a staple of British comedy. Now, the star of Mr. Bean, Black Adder and several successful one-man comedy shows is in fine form in his new film, Johnny English.

Johnny English spoofs spy films, mocking the elegance, gadgets, car chases, dashing heroes and thin plots of the classic spy movies. Originally conceived as a character in a series of UK credit card commercials, English is now manifested on screen. Parallels will be drawn with the Austin Powers films, however, unlike Austin Powers, Johnny English manages to be uniquely British. He lucks into a great gig and gets wrapped up in it, truly oblivious that he is in over his head. Atkinson plays this role well, with a zealous and cheeky character that manages to blunder into strange situations, only to extricate himself indignantly. He's always at the right place at the wrong time and has no idea what to do. He’s blundering, clueless, and really, really funny.

Johnny English opens with Atkinson as a junior intelligence officer who lucks into the job of Britain's top spy through a series of mishaps. There are no better spies in all the realm, primarily because there are none left. With all the great Brit spies out of commission, Her Majesty must turn to her last best hope, Johnny English.

English is assigned to guard the newly restored Crown Jewels. However, fate decrees that the jewels are taken from the Tower Of London and given to a villainous prison builder, played by John Malkovich, who will crown himself King and turn the UK into a sort of neo-Alcatraz.

Malkovich as Pascal Sauvage is amazing. He is the annoying aloof, over the top French criminal mastermind. His wacky accent and maniacal devilishness make him a great serious foil for the loopy Johnny English.

The heroine is played by Aussie soap star and pop singer, Natalie Imbuglia. She plays, Lorna Campbell, another spy out to save the Crown Jewels. Surprisingly, she holds her own here, providing serious moments in between comedic escapades.

As Johnny, Rowan Atkinson drives the movie. Johnny English is non-stop laughter with all the standards of physical comedy, plus deviant silliness thrown in for good measure. Johnny English is a smart, savvy comedy with whimsy, fun, and a cavalcade of humor.

Director Peter Howitt (AntiTrust, Sliding Doors) has created a terrific, fun romp of satire. It doesn’t try to do too much and it doesn't go for too many cheap laughs. And although some of the jokes are telegraphed well in advance, they are still hilariously executed. This is a comedic tour-de-force for Atkinson and a chance for us all to have some plain old fun at the cinema.


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