Director: Oliver Parker
Starring: Rowan Atkinson
Runtime: 101 mins
Johnny English Reborn is an unusual release this year given that its predecessor, the mildly amusing but ultimately unmemorable Johnny English, came out in 2003. It seems odd, therefore, that someone felt it was necessary to revive the already forgotten lead character with an equally forgettable and ultimately mediocre sequel so many years later.
The plot, which serves only as connective tissue between the clichéd comedic sequences, begins in Tibet where Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson), after a botched mission in Mozambique, is attempting to ‘find’ himself, to become ‘reborn’ as a better secret agent with the assistance of Tibetan monks. Several torturous jokes later, frequently involving genitalia, English is re-commissioned by MI7 to prevent a plot to kill the Chinese Premier.
After this almost unbearable opening, the film eventually becomes at least reasonably entertaining as it dismantles the common tropes of the spy genre, in particular the Bourne series and the gritty, Daniel Craig-era Bond films. One of the few funny scenes in which Atkinson’s talents in physical comedy are effectively put to use satirises the popularity of ludicrous, Parkour-inspired chase sequences: whilst his assailant acrobatically descends the face of a building, English casually uses a lift to reach his target.
However, these sections of comic ingenuity (which are few and far between) highlight the biggest flaw in the rest of the film. Aside from its quips about spy films that have been released in the intervening eight years, Johnny English Reborn has about as much comedic insight into the spy genre as its predecessor – which, apart from some friendly xenophobia towards the French, wasn’t very much at all! The attempts at parody are so unoriginal that it feels like a stereotype of spy spoofs, which were already starting to look overworked in 2002 with Austin Powers in Goldmember.
An audience might still find solace from the man behind Blackadder and Mr Bean; however, in Johnny English Reborn, Rowan Atkinson’s acting finds an unhappy medium between his two greatest characters. English is not quite as bumbling an idiot as Bean, but neither is he as suave or witty as Blackadder. This lack of continuity is not so different from the spy’s own incompetence, but results in a merely competent comedy performance.
Although some young children will undoubtedly find this film an enjoyable distraction for a couple of hours, it is an inadequate vehicle for such a comedy legend; and most importantly of all, isn’t very funny.