I never got why the Johnny English films didn’t get out there more or endure as classics because they’re pure gold. I mean if we’re talking franchises that spoof James Bond then Austin Powers kind of just reigns supreme as a given, but English is next up in line for my money, thanks to the sheer unfiltered cyclone of comedic star-power that is Rowan Atkinson. The first film is an all timer for me, minted platinum I’ve seen it so many times. The second is admittedly not as strong but the third outing, titled Johnny English Strikes Again, finds its way back to the magic of the first and is an absolute howling joy. He’s just so friggin perfect, stupid by way of being suave as perennial fuck up English, the type of guy that no one ever in real life would trust with a mission but in the satirical world of cinema espionage he constantly finds himself somehow employed. This one steps up his level of idiocy to near biblical heights in the very first scene: in hysterical collective cameos we see Charles Dance, Edward Fox and Michael Gambon as three legendary MI6 agents hauled out of retirement to assess a cyber attack that blew the cover of agents in the field. Naturally Johnny is also somewhere in the office and naturally he causes some colossal mishap that kills all three in the first ten minutes of the film. Three seasoned veterans of cinema, dispatched before the opening credits, that cracked me up so hard lol. Emma Thompson is great as the loopy section chief tasked with babysitting Johnny on his hectic escapades, Ben Miller returns as trusty, long suffering sidekick Bough and Olga Kurylenko is fun as a slinky Russian double agent who finds Johnny’s lack of self awareness charmingly quaint. The antics in this one are especially fun, with two distinct highlights: Johnny tries out a cutting edge VR room meant to help with surveillance, gets so disoriented that he runs about in a mad dash of confused violence all over London that culminates in the beatdown of a cafe owner with two baguettes. In the film’s funniest bit he accidentally swallows some secret pill that I’m pretty sure was just raw amphetamines and comes blasting out of his hotel room like a speed freak while Darude sandstorm plays loudly and he dances in a club literally all night until they turn the lights on and kick him out. These films might be too silly or whatever for some but there’s just something so winning about Atkinson’s presence, his mannerisms, constant fuck ups and the pure, self assured swagger he adopts that becomes hysterically ironic when we see what an actual moron he really is. Good times and a terrific cap to the trilogy.
Who doesn’t love Love Actually? I know I do. It’s such a sentimental, goofy, overblown pile of mush and I love it even more for being so. It can be sappy, but a lot of the situations and character interactions it entails are blunt, awkward truths made even more hilarious by an even more awkward cast, and encapsulate the meaning of Christmas. Not all the couples work out, not all of the individual stories end well or in satisfaction for characters or audiences. But that’s life, and they make the best out of what they have at this time of year, which is what it’s really about. Some turn out splendidly for the characters, leaving them beaming. Some learn tough lessons that are necessary for growth, some find love in storybook fashion and others are simply there for comic relief. What comedy and tearful drama we get as too, delivered by an astoundingly massive cast of British legends, speckled with a few familiar Yankee faces just to garnish the giant British figgy pudding. Liam Neeson plays a grieving father whose son (Thomas Bodie Sangster) is sick with love. Neeson’s sister (Emma Watson, grounded, real, heartbreaking) deals with her irresponsible husband (Alan Rickman, incapable of a false note). The newly elected Prime Minister (Hugh Grant in full flustered, fumbling glory) is attracted to his cute secretary (Martine Mcutcheon) and aloof writer Colin Firth feels pangs for his Portuguese housekeeper (Lúcià Moniz) who speaks not a word of English. Laura Linney has a steamy office romance with Rodrigo Santoro whilst dealing with an ill sibling, Bill Nighy is hysterical as a cynical Grinch of a pop star with a jaded facade, Keira Knightely, Chiwetel Efjor and Andrew Lincoln are involved in a subtle love triangle, and there’s all kinds of interwoven vignettes including Martin Freeman, Elisha Cuthbert, Ivana Milicevic, January Jones, Claudia Schiffer, Shannon Elizabeth, Denise Richards, Joanna Page, Sienna Guillory, Billy Bob Thornton as the sleazy US President and a priceless Rowan Atkinson as the world’s weirdest jewelry salesman who gives new maniacal meaning to holiday gift wrapping. It’s a big old circus of Christmas spirit with all kinds of different desires, motivations and relationships that reaches a festive fever pitch before erupting into a joyous finale of giddy Yuletide melodrama and cathartic good times that is impossible not to smile at. An annual watch for me.
Johnny English is kind of like James Bond, except his stairs don’t quite reach the attic. The bumbling spy comedy has seen many different iteration, from foppish Clouseau to classy but dense Get Smart, but English is my favourite of the bunch because it’s blessed with the star power of Rowan ‘Mr. Bean’ Atkinson, a man who’s so funny that he’s still hilarious when he’s not even trying, or even attempting a serious role. There’s something about his impish, mischievous, pointedly smug yet somehow friendly visage that makes him perfect for comedy. Johnny English is the Crown’s last hope, a hapless desk jockey shunted into the field of MI6 work when literally every other active agent is killed in a failed op. Atkinson plays him to a note: resoundingly confident and assured of his skill, charm and charisma, yet endlessly, unbelievably stupid in every situation he enters. Parachuting onto the wrong building, royally fucking up a London vehicular pursuit, accidentally shooting a poor secretary with a knockout serum from a ballpoint pen, the list goes on. If there’s a carefully planned mission or set piece, it exists solely for him to bumble through and screw up spectacularly, like a room full of dominoes set up for a toddler to decimate. He’s up against one of the most ridiculous villains cinema has ever seen, a ‘jumped up Frenchman’ called Pascal Sauvage, some fruitcake billionaire who wants to turn the UK into a giant prison after he’s stolen the crown jewels and quite literally the throne as well. He’s played by John Malkovich in a L’Oréal worthy wig and spluttering out a French accent that’s so terribly misguided it makes his Russian one from Rounders sound half-legit, and if you’ve seen that film you’ll know what I mean. You need a villain as idiotic as the hero in this type of thing though (McGruber understood that well), and it’s a pleasure to watch ever eccentric pompously send up his own image with good cheer. There’s also a sexy Bond girl, or rather ‘English girl’, who’s eons smarter than the man as well and played by Australian singer Natalie Imbruglia. This is silly stuff all round, non of it believable in anything but a satirical fashion, but it’s great fun, carried by Atkinson’s effortless prancing antics and some genuinely hilarious set pieces. My favourites are when he has to pretend to be retarded to get out of a sticky situation that was naturally his own fault to begin with, and when he actually flips on the palace loudspeakers for Sauvage to hear his whole plan as he whispers it to his sidekick, Malkovich’s exasperated reactions are inspired. There’s a sequel, Johnny English Reborn which is fun but not quite up to this pedigree, and a third one coming out this year that I’ll be checking out as well.