Tag Archives: Tim Piggot Smith

Johnny English

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.

-Nate Hill

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