007's hapless cousins
Few subjects have spawned more film spoofs than the larger-than-life persona of British secret agent James Bond. And for a good reason.
Bond is cool, suave and epitomises British sophistication. But he is just way too good to be true. No warm-blooded human can be half as accomplished as he has shown himself to be in his 20-odd films.
Think about it: even the actors who have played 007 over the years - Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan - are irresistibly classy and charming. Bond's masculine perfection begs to be parodied; it's always funny to caricature something unattainable.
As spy films have come thick and fast over the years, so have spoofs. This week Rowan Atkinson reprises his role as the bumbling titular character in Johnny English Reborn. English must save the world from international assassins that threaten the global order.
Austin Powers is the most popular recent James Bond spoof - and justifiably so. The films find their humour in poking fun at spies, spy films and the spoof genre - everything is fair game. Powers (played by Mike Myers, right) is a self-absorbed wise-cracker who relies on sheer good luck and charm alone to save the world from baddies.
Get Smart, which is based on the US TV series of the same name, was another recent Bond spoof and a smashing success at the box office. It starred Anne Hathaway as a perfectly coiffed, perfectly trained agent, and comedian Steve Carell as a hopelessly idiotic spy wannabe who ends up saving the day and getting the girl.
Of the bunch, the most offbeat - and, perhaps, one of the funniest spy spoofs - is From Beijing with Love by Hong Kong funny man Stephen Chow. This came around the time of God of Cookery and the Chinese Odyssey series, so there's plenty of patented Chow slapstick involved.
Many people shudder at the mere thought of spoof films, regarding them as the lowest form of comedy. Yet often there is more to spoofs than meets the eye.
The genre relies on a high level of viewer knowledge of the original material to deliver the laughs. Parody is only funny if you are familiar with the subject being mocked. Otherwise, the jokes fall flat. In that sense, spoofs are relatively sophisticated - they need a certain standard of audience awareness.
Spoofs also abound in nifty word play, innuendo and running jokes, which is further proof that you don't have to be lowbrow to like such movies. You just have to have an open mind and a desire to laugh - out loud, preferably.
Johnny English Reborn opens tomorrow