One of Britain’s finest comedians tries to launch spy comedy franchise … again
If Rowan Atkinson had done in America what he’s done in Britain, he might be known as the single funniest comedic actor currently working today. Crafting two legendary characters in Mr. Bean and Edmund Blackadder in two remarkably funny comedic series, he’s shown the remarkable ability to take two very different character types and make them both memorable and hilarious. Bean rarely speaks and relies more on pratfalls and shenanigans. Blackadder is a pompous imbecile who some could argue was the character type that Larry David has ridden to fame in Curb Your Enthusiasm. It takes someone with a special level of talent to take two wildly different characters and make them iconic; it’s a shame that he’s just never been able to translate that into American success the way he has in the rest of the world.
Atkinson has never really found a vehicle that connected with American audiences en masse. Both of the Bean films did remarkable business overseas and didn’t make much of a dent in American markets. The same could be said for Atkinson’s spy-spoof Johnny English, which never found an audience in America but warranted a sequel because it was remarkably successful everywhere else in the world. And it’s a shame, really, because
Johnny English Reborn finds the titular hero (Atkinson) in a monastery after blowing an assignment in devastating fashion. Targeted for a return by MI7, English is brought back to civilization to save the Chinese Premier from a conspiracy of epic proportions. And, in Johnny English fashion, he does it in the most ridiculous manner possible.
That’s the key to this film working. Similar to MacGruber, but infinitely funnier, this is a film that works because it’s a good action film about spies while also ruthlessly mocking the genre. This is a film that looks at Never Say Never Again and finds a comedic goldmine in the same way Austin Powers poked fun at the James Bond formula in general. Reborn seems to be tackling the last Sean Connery stint as Bond much more specifically, taking broad elements from that film and ruthlessly parodying them through the eyes of an idiot who thinks he is James Bond.
And that’s the key to the film working: Rowan Atkinson has a remarkable ability to be a complete buffoon and yet somehow manages to be both entertaining and endearing. He walks a similar line as he did in Blackadder, but with a modern character as opposed to one from various generations. His ability to combine his natural ability for physical comedy with the behavior of an imbecile is remarkable and what carries the film to remarkably funny levels.
The film just doesn’t have that final gear to push it into overdrive; this is a film much more worried about trying to have the option for a third film available as opposed to being a strong film on its own right. This ability to avoid worrying about the franchise, and just making a complete film, hampers it in the end. Johnny English Reborn is more intent on establishing a franchise once again and not on being a complete comedy, which really is its only weakness.
Director: Oliver Parker Notable Cast: Rowan Atkinson, Gillian Anderson, Rosamund Pike, Dominic West, Daniel Kaluuya, Richard Schiff Writer(s): William Davis and Harnish McColl