Johnny English Reborn

Johnny English Reborn is a bit of Bean and a bit of Bond - Stirred and thoroughly shaken.

It is quite evident that this film and the preceding 2003 version are much lighter parodies of James Bond films. Having said that, any or all clichés or scenes that resemble those in Bond films are negated simply due to the satirical nature of this film and in no way does it try to be more that what it is — a balls-out slapstick comedy.

Here’s a re-cap if you have missed the first part. Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson) is a bumbling idiot whose incompetence leads to the death of British Intelligence operative ‘Agent One’. At the funeral that follows and under English’s watch, all remaining MI-7 agents are killed by a dirty bomb. It is now up to English to avert a plot to steal the Crown Jewels and stop a despot from claiming the Crown of Britain. With this second installment, we learn that English becomes a top agent on Her Majesties’ Secret Service but after bungling up a high profile mission in Mozambique, is dismissed from the Secret Service. Before the opening credits we are taken to Tibet, where in a monastery, English learns martial arts and gains insight and retribution for his past mistakes. Soon after, MI-7 re-instates English after learning of a plot to kill the Chinese Prime Minister due to attend a summit in Switzerland. What follows is an action packed, albeit, laughter induced farce where English must prevent a shadow organization known as ‘Vortex’ from assassinating the Chinese premier. Through trial and error, and many more errors, he discovers the involvement of the KGB and the CIA and learns that no one can be trusted, including friends at MI-7.

Why do I think this film is better than the first? For starters, Peter Howitt from the first film is replaced by Oliver Parker as director, giving Reborn a tweaked look and feel that results in a fast paced film with never a dull moment. Although Howitt’s version relies heavily on witty dialogue synonymous with typical British humour, Parker takes this further by giving us moments we really want to see — Rowan Atkinson doing what he does best. As such, there are moments where we get to see Mr. Bean again. Standout scenes are when English attends an emergency meeting with the British prime Minister and whenever he is led to recall the “Mozambique” incident; hilarious and priceless, yet scenes with an unmistakable Bean signature. Having also written the screenplay for the first movie, William Davies returns as co-writer but punctuates the script with equal amounts of action and comedy. While comedy here consists of visual gags, minor slapstick moments and English’s eyebrow raising dialogue, action is peppered with car chases, firefights and use of gadgetry found in espionage films. On that note, the plot takes on a slightly darker shade as compared to the first movie, resulting in a final act that looks almost as if it were indeed an espionage thriller. Like a Bond film, the story also has English going places and is seen in and out of Tibet, Macau, Hong Kong and London, with an explosive finale on the Swiss Alps.

For a comedy of this nature, don’t expect anything along the lines of serious acting. Watching this film with that expectation will seriously undermine a viewer’s experience, especially with Atkinson as the titled lead. His facial expressions alone are enough to throw performance gauging out the window. Aside from Atkinson, Gillian Anderson heads MI-7 as “Pegasus” in a role parallel to M in Bond flicks. Rosamund Pike (who played a real Bond girl in Die Another Day) is the agency’s psychiatric-consultant and English’s love interest while Dominic West plays another covert operative in a role critical to the plot. Playing English’s sidekick and voice of reason, new comer Daniel Kaluuya adds to the laughter as English’s only admirer. As a Chinese assassin, PikSen Lim has some of the best scenes in the film opposite Atkinson. It was only after the screening and while researching for this review that I realized with amazement, that Lim played Chung Su-Lee, a Chinese communist but English student in the UK, in that 1970s sitcom Mind Your Language. For the most part, it must have been a herculean task for all other actors to maintain a straight face while Atkinson went about his comic talents.

As a comedy, Reborn is in a class of its own. Even so, fans of the Austin Powers franchise may find Johnny English Reborn a tad bit more entertaining, minus the often colourful characters associated with the former. As I stated in the beginning, if you are willing to take this movie at face value, then you will find yourself chuckling all the way to the end…with one eye on the blink.

Rating: ★★★☆☆


About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.