Johnny English Reborn

First things first – the first twenty minutes of Johnny English Reborn are rubbish. There’s a stereotypical vaguely Eastern training montage, there’s a bit with a cat, Rowan Atkinson falls off a thing and people worth more than this film look at him in that quizzical way people look in films like Johnny English. But once it’s got its story on straight, its direction secured and Atkinson is allowed free rein with that incredible word-producing face of his, it’s all a lot more passable. Is it what we’ve been waiting for from Atkinson ever since the Blackadder boys went over the top? Of course not. But it’ll have to do for now.

After spending years as MI7’s most brilliant agent (really?), it seems that Johnny English’s luck changed one fateful, mysterious mission in Mozambique. Disgraced, humiliated and packed off to Tibet to watch monks kick eachother in the crotch for a few months, we’re forced to waste a bit of time waiting for the plot to kick in as Johnny swings between failing (hilariously) miserably at being a Kung Fu master and improbably (hilariously) kicking the shit out of everyone.

Before we’ve had too long to figure out which bit is meant to be the joke, English gets a call that puts him on the next flight back to London. It appears that a tip has come in as to the whereabouts of an infamous gang determined to kill the Chinese Premier – and the source will only talk to one man. All of a sudden, English is heading up a brand new mission: find out those responsible for the evil plot, track them down and save the the leader of China. He’s got a brand new wing-man in the form of young Mr Tucker (Pyschoville‘s Daniel Kaluuya), a challenger agent in the dashing Simon Ambrose (Dominic West) and everything to prove. Again. Now, if only he had a dishy, wide-eyed but mainly superfluous Rosamund Pike-type to help him out along the way. Oh wait…

Johnny English Reborn is a strange little film, never quite sure of who its pitching to and what it’s supposed to be mocking. On a very basic level it starts furiously ticking the physical comedy boxes as soon as the credits push off; ill-timed cats, unfortunately placed yoga balls, mix-ups during weapon demonstration, all the tropes we’ve come to know and bear with in sub-standard comedies are out in full force. But mixed in with all this by-numbers chuckle-promotion are genuinely surprising joys – a set-piece involving the hijacking a holiday yacht “on the service of her majesty”, and all the bemused occupants being utterly delighted is a highlight – and this only serves to underline the fact that the cast and crew are worth so much more than an idea that was done to death by Mike Myers years ago. The deft cast and good editing ensure that we zip along at a perfectly satisfactory pace; leaping from country to country, from helicopters to wheelchairs, from golf courses to snowy mountain-tops in pursuit of our criminal and our climax. And then suddenly Johnny mixes up someone’s mum for a baddie again, and you can’t help but want to kill everyone involved out of pure frustration.

At the end of the day, the strengths of Johnny English Reborn come from a cast that forgives the film its premise. Dominic West and Rosamund Pike are on as good a form as they ever are, Kaluuya is a nice addition as Tucker, and Rowan Atkinson is, forever, a joy. But this is not a cast that requires an explosions budget in order to create compelling, hilarious cinema. By far the funniest sequence in Johnny English 2 involves – in its entirety- Rowan Atkinson struggling to control a chair. It’s simple, it’s about three shots and lasts a minute and a half. And it’s totally, utterly wonderful. Put down the gun, Rowan, put down the contract with Universal and put down the hilarious associated merchandise – we deserve better than Johnny English. We deserve you.

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