Johnny English Reborn
Starring: Rowan Atkinson, Gillian Anderson, Rosamund Pike, Dominic West
Director: Oliver Parker
Driven by a straightforward repetition of the old-school buffoonery with which Rowan Atkinson propelled himself to fame - nearly two decades ago - with his Mr Bean persona, this sequel-of-sorts is an overstretched mix of gags that only reworks slightly what has appeared in the television series and two much more entertaining Bean movies. Rather than regenerating the Johnny English franchise, this will probably be the movie that kills Atkinson's funny-man career for good.
The film begins five years after the British super-spy has been in exile in Tibet after a botched mission in Mozambique, with Johnny English (Atkinson, above right with Williams Belle) summoned back to Britain by his employers. His swagger is immediately dealt a blow, however, as he finds himself a stranger in a strange land, with the secret services now transformed into a slick enterprise complete with a catchy slogan ('Spying for You'), a reception area staffed by an army of photogenic hotline operators, and a new brand thanks to the sale of naming rights to a (real) Japanese multinational electronics firm. The biggest shock for English, however, is his new boss, Pamela 'Pegasus' Thornton (Gillian Anderson) - a strict cat-lover who tells English how she wants to rid MI7 of the traditional culture of 'guns, fast cars, and chauvinism'. But rather than drawing comedy from how the self-styled seductive spy fares in this new universe, Parker and Atkinson opt for conjuring laughs out of guns, fast cars and chauvinism - all given a faint whiff of postmodern irony, of course, through knowing humour and Atkinson's gurning physical-comedy routines.
The plot about English being assigned to foil an assassination attempt on the Chinese prime minister - a job that includes sorties to Macau and Hong Kong - becomes something of an afterthought, as English fumbles from one near-disaster to another but somehow can still command respect from his starry-eyed assistant Tucker (Daniel Kaluuya) and admiration from the MI7 behavioural psychologist Kate Sumner (Rosamund Pike).
These characters - the child-like black sidekick; the sexy blonde scientist/love interest - are unreconstructed types that could sit comfortably in a Sean Connery-era 007 film. The problem here is that the genre that Johnny English seeks to send up has moved away from its roots while the franchise languished in hiatus for the past eight years.
Today, audiences warm to the flawed, confused heroes in Bond, Bourne and Bauer; there's basically nothing left to parody these days but shadows from a very distant cinematic past - and where the Johnny English premise has failed, Get Smart did better. Unfortunately, Johnny English Reborn can only be seen as a parody of itself.
Johnny English Reborn opens today