o be perfectly honest, I don't know why spy parodies
aren't as funny as they should be. After all, when you're freed of the
responsibility of coming up with a half-decent plot, shouldn't your entire time
be spent coming up with jokes and gags? As was the case with "Agent
Cody Banks", "The
In-Laws", and a dozen other Spy Parodies in the last few years
(including the curiously poor "XXX"),
the English film "Johnny English" doesn't begin to make the most out
of the inherent freedom that comes with not having to worry about actual plot.
"Johnny English" stars Atkinson as the titular
character, a British government employee who works in the less-than-exciting
MI-7 branch, which is just one number from being the same department as the one
James Bond is from. Johnny has dreams of being a spy, but of course he's rather
incompetent, so that tends to hinder a secret agent. But all that changes when
Britain's ace spies are all killed in farfetched circumstances, leaving Johnny
and his assistant Bough (Ben Miller) to be promoted and go in search of the
Johnny immediately latches onto shady French businessman
Pascal Sauvage, played by John Malkovich with a terrible French accent (or some
type of accent). In fact, Malkovich looks physically pained by every inane
"accented" dialogue he has to spit out. Australian singer Natalie
Imbruglia co-stars as Lorna Campbell, an Interpol agent also after Sauvage. You
see, the French tycoon plans on taking over the English throne and turning the
country into one big gigantic prison, thus making billions from the endeavor.
How exactly this devious plan would make him billions is, well, your guess is as
good as mine, and probably better.
Imbruglia is quite attractive in the role, although seeing
her supposedly "falling for" the 50ish Atkinson is a bit
disconcerting. After all, Atkinson is no (and you'll pardon the comparison)
Michael Douglas, who also had a woman of Imbruglia's age fawning over him in
Actually, for a movie devoid of the necessity to come up with a half-decent
plot, it's strange how little comedy there is in "Johnny
English". I haven't really seen that many things Atkinson has done, but
judging by "English" alone, I don't see the appeal. There's very
little physical comedy to be found, something I'm told Atkinson is known for.
Then again, there are a lot of scenes of Atkinson making faces, putting the
spotlight on those two big moles on his mug.
As a comedy, I guess there's enough in "Johnny
English" to make it not a complete waste of time. Although I could have
done without some of the mistaken identity sequences (including one at a
cemetery that just falls flat), the scenes with John Malkovich ("Knockaround
Guys") is the one funny constant. Although French people will probably
not take too kindly to Malkovich's Sauvage, as a non-French I have to admit that
his portrayal is quite funny. Again, I'm not even sure what accent Malkovich is
doing; at one point I was sure he was going for German.
A big aspect of "Johnny English" that fails to
deliver, I think, is the character itself. Johnny isn't a complete goofball, but
actually seems to have some spy skills. Although he never really knows more than
he keeps claiming he does to his assistant Ben Miller, Johnny is not completely
a fool. Which might have been a missed opportunity. Wouldn't it be funnier if
Johnny were a complete fool? A total moron without a single ounce of
ability as a secret agent, which makes his sudden promotion to secret agent
mined with comedic possibilities? Why make Johnny semi-competent at all? As a
result, I just didn't laugh a lot at Atkinson, which I think I'm supposed to do.
As pointed out, plots in these Spy Parodies are such
afterthoughts that it's pointless to consider them failures. How could they be
problematic if they were never meant to be even just a bit realistic in the
I didn't laugh that much with "Johnny English",
but it wasn't a complete bore. At just 80 minutes, the whole thing moved fast
enough that most of the flat gags get glossed over quickly by the ones that do
work. I guess that's a good thing -- although not good enough that I would
voluntarily watch this movie again.