Friday, 21 October 2011

Johnny English: Reborn [Review]

The original Rowan Atkinson spoof-spy caper Johnny English (2003) lay under no false pretexts; born simply as slapstick, cringing comedy of the best kind, Atkinson’s bumbling spook was a character I was always particularly fond of. The film was panned by critics, dismissed as ‘cheesy, brainless and puerile’, but I felt it carried a certain charm. In any case, its reception at the box office warranted a sequel, albeit some eight years later, and so we arrive at Johnny English Reborn.

Atkinson's second outing spoofing all things 007 sees the exiled protagonist return from Tibet, where we are told he was sent after a disastrous mission in Mozambique, in order to find a mole within British intelligence service MI7. It's a plot as clich├ęd and generic as they come, but the focus in parodies such as this isn't on the story. The advantage Reborn has over other supposedly satirical or spoof films is that it doesn't take itself too seriously - which, when combined with a fundamentally British cast, helmed by the legendary Atkinson, lays waste to other flicks of the genre (here's looking at you, Meet the Spartans (2008)).

One phrase in particular can be applied to this eventual second instalment: more of the same. If, like the majority of film critics, you were disaffected by or indifferent to the original Johnny English film, it is very unlikely that the series’ rebirth will win you over. The same repertoire of jokes; the same ineptly narcissistic ‘heroics’; the same blend of subtlety and exaggeration - all await you in what is essentially the original Johnny English with new faces and an alternative (but similarly generic) plot.

Take, for instance, the case of mistaken identity; a staple of the first film, Atkinson’s misdeeds often came about as a result of following the wrong suspect (or, as was the case in one of the original film’s highlights, following the wrong hearse). Such is Reborn - one of the recurring jokes revolves around a Chinese assassin, disguised as a maid, whom English mistakes for all manner of innocent characters to amusing effect.

But while the style might not have evolved, there are a few satirical sequences that show the progression of the character and indeed of the franchise. For instance, a hilariously inane scene sees English using lifts, staircases, girders and all manner of normal means of getting about to thwart a free-running assassin, in a subtle parody of Casino Royale’s (2006) opening scenes.

There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking here, and you’re unlikely to be swayed if you didn’t enjoy the original’s coarse humour, but for fans of the 2003 caper it’s worth a watch. Its humour is nowhere near as forced as its American spoof siblings, and so Johnny English Reborn ends up a light-hearted and enjoyable comedy. Of course, it's anything but ambitious, instead resting comfortably on the laurels of its predecessor. But it’s still a jolly good show, old boy.

✰✰✰

See also: Johnny English (2003)

Dir: Oliver Parker
Cast: Rowan Atkinson, Rosamund Pike, Dominic West
Universal Pictures, 101 mins, 07/10/11

Synopsis: The unlikeliest spy in all of England returns after an eight-year stint off the grid, still knowing no fear, no danger... and indeed, knowing nothing. But when MI7 learns of an attempt on the Chinese premier's life, it's up to Johnny English to save the day...

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