Thursday, 17 November 2011



With one small but significant caveat, I have absolutely no problems with spoofing James Bond. Some of the Roger Moore Bond films are Bond pastiches anyway: Moonraker is entertaining nonsense but has nothing to do with espionage, coherent plot construction, plausibility or even James Bond (and in any case no film with a pigeon doing a double-take or a comedy Thatcher impression, as in the case of For Your Eyes Only, has any right to be taken seriously). The small but significant caveat, however, is that they're funny, so this discounts the three Austin Powers movies, which ran out of steam less than one reel into the first film, and the second was so tediously vulgar I seriously considered demanding my money back (I see from the IMDb that Austin Powers 4 has been announced, in a decision which has to be financial because it sure as hell isn't creative).

Far more successful was 2003's Johnny English, a generally enjoyable Bond spoof (it was even co-written by two of the regular Bond screenwriters) in which Rowan Atkinson recreated his character from a series of Barclaycard adverts: according to the IMDb page it cost $35 million and took $129 million. Eight years on we have Johnny English Reborn and it really is a case of more of the same: English (Atkinson) has retired to seek enlightenment in a Tibetan monastery after an assignment in Mozambique went disastrously wrong. But MI7 desperately need him back as they learn that a mysterious organisation called Vortex is planning to assassinate the Chinese Premier at a forthcoming summit meeting. They have just one lead: a CIA agent in Macau. Can English unmask the members of the organisation and foil their scheme? It's clearly not giving anything away to say "yes, he can".

And like the first one, it's pretty good (in fact it's probably a shade better than the original) although it isn't great. it's Much of the movie's success is down to Rowan Atkinson's comedic abilities, both physical and verbal. In the case of the physical slapstick comedy I'm usually less taken with him - I loathe and detest Mr Bean and won't watch it, although it's the Bean character than annoys me rather than Atkinson - but there is plenty of verbal as well. The weakest sequence is probably the motorised wheelchair chase which really isn't funny or exciting enough.

But it's engagingly silly with a surprisingly strong cast including Gillian Anderson, Dominic West, Rosamund Pike (who was actually in Die Another Day and was one of the best things about that overblown mess), Richard Schiff, Tim McInnerny and Burn Gorman. None of the original cast appear to have returned although I thought I glimpsed Ben Miller as a children's entertainer - the IMDb doesn't list him or the character. Pierce Brosnan was rumoured to be in it, but isn't (possibly linked to the role played by Dominic West?), which is probably just as well as it would probably have punched up the Bond connection too much. In any case the Ilan Eshkeri score not only adapts the theme from the first Johnny English but is clearly emulating the David Arnold sound of the Brosnan and Craig eras.

While there are bits that don't entirely come off, it works perfectly well as a whole and it easily passes Mark Kermode's Six-Laugh Test Of Comedy (although six laughs in a 101-minute film is about one laugh every seventeen minutes which is an absurdly low batting average outside of the world of ITV sitcoms). I know we're all supposed to be sniffy and snobby about the Johnny English movies as though they're really not the kind of movies we should be making. But why? I can't be snobby and sniffy about it: I enjoyed it and I laughed. Stay through the end credits for a clever extra bit.


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