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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
He Knows No Humor
by Frank Wilkins

The Mission: Create a funny spoof of the James Bond action spy series.

The Obstacles: The James Bond spoof has already been overdone. Rowan Atkinson is not funny.

The Deception: Throw in a beautiful singer-turned actress (Natalie Imbruglia) who can't do the latter and a top-tiered actor (John Malkovich) who's in it for a paycheck.

The Results: A cornball spy spoof that lacks comedy and realizes its own ineptitude, then quickly resorts to effluence humor and bare-bum jokes -- which don't even succeed in making a 7 year-old laugh.

A quick look at some of the most successful films of the spoof-comedy subgenre reveals a formula that is actually quite simple. The Zuckers, creators of Airplane! (1980) and the Naked Gun series, showed us that clever dialogue and a well-written script could go a long way toward making an audience laugh and ultimately bringing in a lot of money. But the main ingredient, and the one fundamental component upon which its subsequent parts depend, is a lead actor who's actually funny. While it seems to make sense to cast Rowan Atkinson, a Brit through-and-through, in the role of Johnny English, what doesn't make sense is why he is currently considered one of Britain's funniest men.

Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson), a bumbling agent in the British Intelligence service, gets the assignment of guarding the crown jewels while they are on public display. The jewels are immediately stolen and English is quickly stripped of his duties after he blames the caper on Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich), a debonair French businessman highly revered by the Royal family.

Malkovich's absolutely horrendous French accent ranks right up there with Dick Van Dyke's cockney rendition in Mary Poppins. But that was Malkovich's vehicle for poking fun at the French, right? While there are moments that reveal a coy fiendishness which has always made this actor such a great villain, it quickly becomes evident that Malkovich will be underutilized as the object of English's blunders. What a shame.

Meanwhile English teams up with Lorna Campbell (Natalie Imbruglia), an Interpol agent, who's one of the few cops to believe in his Sauvage accusations. English and Campbell uncover Sauvage's sinister plot and set out on a mission to foil his attempt at forcing the Queen of England to abdicate her throne and hand the crown to him.

While Johnny English suffers from the lack of a definitive funny-man, there are many more aspects that don't come to the film's aid, including a poorly written plot and juvenile dialogue. And, unfortunately, all of the film's sight gags were revealed in the trailers. Although one sequence involving English inadvertently administering muscle relaxant to himself brought a few chuckles, the filmmakers too often resorted to the long ago dried-up well of Atkinson's facial contortions and his Mr. Bean mannerisms.

The Conclusion: Johnny English emerges as a poorly executed representative of the over-used spy spoof comedy. It contains a few funny moments, but I had to try really hard to find anything to laugh at.

(Released by Universal Pictures and rated "PG" for comic nudity, some crude humor and language.)

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