Quickly jumping to the top of my list for most-depressing movie experience of 2011 is Johnny English Reborn. Mind you, this has nothing to do with the content of the film, which is your basic nuts-and-bolts spy parody. No, it’s more the superfluous nature of this goofy movie, which has already made a boat load of cash overseas, and seems to have been pawned off Stateside for no other reason than “Why the hell not?” Or maybe it’s watching Gillian Anderson and Dominic West—both actors with once-promising film careers—floating aimlessly through the film like specters. Or perhaps it’s just my mood at having to suffer through yet another Rowan Atkinson movie, where the only point seems to be the moral that if you’re a big enough moron, you’ll eventually rise to the top. Smart money says it’s all of this combined, making this seething, exhausting stew of mediocrity that is Johnny English Reborn so unfortunate.
I don’t mean to pile on to what should be a harmlessly dumb little movie. But I really don’t find Rowan Atkinson’s mugging, bumbling shtick funny in the least, and it’s only compounded by his insistence on playing the most unlikable characters imaginable (the beloved Mr. Bean included). His Johnny English is no different. He’s a pompous muck-up. The point of the film, of course, is to watch secret agent English screw up at every conceivable juncture. In theory, this kind of comedy is supposed to work in small doses—Mr. Bean began as a TV show, and this English character started off in 30-second adverts. But at a bloated 101 minutes, Johnny English Reborn is an endurance test.
For those of you wondering, we get Atkinson as British spy Johnny English, who, after the events of the first Johnny English film is hiding out with monks in Tibet. (If this sounds familiar, that’s because Johnny English Reborn lifted this plot point from Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995), giving us some idea of the lack of imagination at work in the screenplay.) Called back into action, English is asked to meet up with a CIA agent (Richard Schiff) who has information on an unknown secret organization’s plans to assassinate a Chinese statesman. So it’s up to English to basically pratfall his way to glory, as he traipses his way through a lazy, transparent web of deceit and eventually saves the day through the usual array of Mr. Bean-isms.
Your enjoyment of the film will hinge entirely on how much Atkinson you can stomach. There’s really nothing else to the film. While I don’t personally care for the 1967 spy-spoof Casino Royale (don’t worry, I’ve been personally berated by Ken Hanke on numerous occasions for my transgression), even in that uneven and unwieldy film there was some sense of originality, creative energy and comedic purpose—and that was 45 years ago. If you insist on a James Bond parody, just stick with that film, and stay far, far away from the hackneyed laziness that is Johnny English Reborn. Rated PG for mild action violence, rude humor, some language and brief sensuality.