Thursday, 15 September 2011

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Johnny English Reborn [Review]


Opinion: B-

Rowan Atkinson returns 8 years later as funny MI7 agent Johnny English with fate's beckoning. This time he benefits from a couple of good supporting cast around him as he goofs around in naivety. Seeing Atkinson speak somewhat reduces his dependency on his trademark physical comedy acting. When he does it never fails to induce laughter, which is arguably sufficient to distract us from the weak script.


In the years since MI7's top spy vanished off the grid, Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson) has been honing his unique skills in a remote region of Asia. But when his agency superiors learn of an attempt against the Chinese premier's life, they must hunt down the highly unorthodox agent. Now that the world needs him once again, Johnny English is back in action. With one shot at redemption, he must employ the latest in hi-tech gadgets to unravel a web of conspiracy that runs throughout the KGB, CIA and even MI-7. With mere days until a heads of state conference, one man must use every trick in his playbook to protect us all. For Johnny English, disaster may be an option, but failure never is.


Johnny English Reborn might sound like a chance for English to redeem himself as a better agent.

But it is not.

Rowan Atkinson is back after eight years as Johnny English, the trouble-making secret agent of MI7, to stir more controversy like he did prior. Are we supposed to expect him becoming a fluent spy and performing his duties according to textbook in style? If so, that wouldn't make much of a comedy, would it?

We are there to see Atkinson do what he does best - physical comedy. With a single movement or slight facial expression shift, he commands our laughter at will. That's the power of effective comedians, much in line with great comedians like Charlie Chaplin who also practiced silent comedy.

Here in Johnny English Reborn, Atkinson speaks as well. Not sure what most of you feel, but I thought he was funnier when he's merely making noises as Mr Bean. Not everybody can be a good vocal comedian, although Sacha Baron Cohen comes to mind as a good example.

Besides Atkinson, there's a handful of interesting support cast to be seen around English. There's Gillian Anderson as the imperialistic and uptight superior, she made an impression although her role didn't offer her much to do in the film. There's also the notable Rosamund Pike with a magnetic screen presence who similarly didn't have much to do.

This is largely attributed to the film's weak screenplay and story that end up as a bottleneck to the talents in the film. At several times feeling somewhat slapstick and resembling a live action cartoon (we see a number of implausible moments in a briskly edited film), it's obviously not trying to be serious at all.

There isn't much wit between dialogue lines as well.

With uninspiring lines, there is a lot left to be delivered by physical acting that is diluted by the unnecessary chatter. I'm wondering if this would have turned out to be a better comedy with a better screenplay.

If that aside, I did find myself enjoying the company of Atkinson, Anderson, and Pike.

(Preview screening courtesy of United International Pictures Singapore & Omy Sg)

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