Friday, February 06, 2004

Johnny English
Review by Sombrero Grande

The first I heard about Johnny English was merely the premise: Rowan Atkinson, one of the top physical comedians of our time, cast as a bumbling secret agent. I was sold. Whether it be his performances in Mr. Bean, Blackadder or even as the narcoleptic Italian in Rat Race, I’ve always greatly enjoyed Mr. Aktinson’s work. He is a truly gifted comedian with a talent that as of yet, I imagine, has not been fully utilized.

Then I saw the trailer for Johnny English. I was so underwhelmed that I decided to pass on seeing it in theaters. Literally not once did I laugh or even crack a smile during the brief advertising capsule that was supposed to display some of the film’s best moments in order to entice me to pay to see more. It did just the opposite of what it was supposed to do: it got an Atkinson fan already “sold” on the movie to decide not to see it. Now normally I’d criticize the makers of a trailer like that for a shoddy job, but actually I’d like to thank them. If I’d never seen the trailer I surely would have wasted more than just a few bucks on seeing this turkey of a film at my local cinema and been even more disappointed than I am now that I’ve seen Johnny English on DVD.

Poor Rowan. Poor, poor Rowan. His talent is so utterly wasted in this film. At one point Rowan as Johnny English climbs up into a restroom via the septic system and pops out of a toilet covered in poop. Seeing Mr. Atkinson covered in excrement is such a fitting metaphor for this film. The script for Johnny English is so bad that I wouldn’t be surprised to find out a 10-year-old boy had written it. The film begins with Johnny daydreaming about being a top secret agent, foiling foes as if it were no trouble at all. The trouble is, there’s nothing novel or clever about any of it. There was so much potential for clever riffs on James Bond-style “anything I do defeats the bad guys” action, but instead the scene feels like it was written in about two minutes. When two men armed with rifles point them at Johnny’s head, he merely grabs the guns and pushes them into the men, dropping them to the floor. Wow. There are an almost infinite number of clever, funny ways Johnny could have gotten out of the situation involving all sorts of zany gadgets or exaggerated martial arts moves, but no. Seriously, it feels like Little Billy took a break from writing Family Circus and decided to bang out a script in one afternoon.

Want more proof of the bland, blasé, witless writing in this film? The plot unfolds that Britain’s top secret agent is killed, and at his funeral, attended by every other secret agent in the country, they’re all taken out in one fell swoop, leaving Johnny English as the only man still around when England’s in trouble. What I want to know is how dumb do the screenwriters think we are? WHY would ALL of Britain’s top secret agents be allowed to be or even voluntarily be in one location all at once? That’s only the beginning of an avalanche of baffling questions that will haunt any viewer with at least one neuron firing in their brain. I tried to shut off that part of my brain that expects that a film make at least some logical sense, but the sheer stupidity of the writing prevented me from accomplishing that goal. WHY would Johnny be given the promotion to secret agent when the infinitely more apt Bough (a very Baldrick-esque sidekick character) is…well, infinitely more apt? WHY does Pegasus, the head honcho of Britain’s secret agents, dispute Johnny’s claim that Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich) is the ringleader of the Crown Jewels theft despite the glaring proof that he is? I was starting to suspect that Pegasus was a double agent, secretly in league in Sauvage. Sure, that could make sense. THAT’S why all the country’s top agents were in the same place at the same time; THAT’S why idiot Johnny was promoted when ANYONE in England would have been a better choice; THAT’S why he dismisses hard evidence. Yes, that must be it, after all, every gag in the movie has been just that predictable. But no. Very, very sadly…no. The questions remain unanswered.

Perhaps the thing that irked me the most and prevented me more than anything else from attaining any interest in this film is the fact that there is ZERO character development for the title character. We never get a sense of WHO Johnny English is, other than the fact that he’s a narcissistic, bumbling moron and he wants to defend and protect his country. Many tidbits of his character are hinted at (such as his “knowledge” of monks using sound to detect distances in the dark or unlock doors) but I get the feeling that these tidbits are only “hints” because the writers couldn’t manage to come up with anything else. After the movie ended I didn’t feel like I knew anything about Johnny that I didn’t already discern from the trailer. Like I said before: a 10-year-old.

I’d say this poor excuse for a film should only be watched by elementary school age kids since they’re likely to be the only viewers capable of enjoying Johnny English, but thanks to a totally out-of-place highly sexual conversation (likely only added to avoid a G rating), I’m not even sure THEY’RE an appropriate audience for this train wreck.

Mr. Atkinson, I’m begging you: do not stoop to wasting your talent on substandard material like this. After all, you passed on reprising your role as Zazu in The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, so I know you have it in you to say “no” to bad material. If you have the money to check yourself into a $6,000-a-week celebrity clinic for depression then you can probably afford to pass on the kinds of roles that would cause the critical slamming that could put you in there in the first place.


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