Here’s a question, movie fans: on the international stage, who is Britain’s biggest movie star? We’ll give you a hint: it’s not Hugh Grant or Colin Firth; the name doesn’t rhyme with Meara Mightley; and this actor has not appeared in a Harry Potter movie. If you guessed Rowan Atkinson, then help yourself to a treat!
Despite having headlined only 4 movies (2 Mr Beans and 2 Johnny English entries), Atkinson has pulled in close to a billion dollars at the box office. Mr Bean videos and television re-runs are so enormously popular in South America, Africa and Asia that Atkinson is perhaps the most recognisable Brit in the world next to the Queen. To get an idea of how famous he is world-wide, all you have to do is recall a news story from 2007 where an English sailor held by Iranian forces was reduced to tears by captors who insisted on calling him ‘Mr Bean’.
Our point is this: while Johnny English Reborn is a film about a bumbling English spy that spoofs the British spy genre, it’s a movie made very much with the international audience in mind. To that end, the humour is more Mr Bean than Blackadder. At the age of 56, Atkinson’s ability to play slapstick is still intact. In a scene where Johnny messes about with a hydraulic chair during a meeting with the PM, the bits of physical shtick he pulls off are as good as anything he’s done before. However good, his strength in physical comedy cannot disguise the lack of a story here. The main plot involving a mind control conspiracy is a complete shambles, designed to move Atkinson between situations and locations where he can mistakenly beat up on old women or accidentally destroy government property.
Fans of high quality television dramas will also have good reason to tune in: filling out the cast are The Hour’s Dominic West and Gillian Anderson from The X-Files (who seems to have reinvented herself as a British actress). They both give good performance and accomplish what is asked of them. Rosamund Pike, sadly, is given a real dog of a role: she plays a beautiful civil servant who is inexplicably attracted to Johnny English despite the fact he is a world-class buffoon. If you watch closely in one scene, you can see her moment of realisation that she was once a real Bond girl and not just a broken parody of one.
It would be easy to be snobby about the lowbrow humour in Johnny English Reborn but it cannot be denied that there is a tremendous demand for this sort of comedy. The direction is weak but the force of nature that is Rowan Atkinson more than makes up for that. It’s something that the entire family can watch without fear of offense or being bored. The kids will love it, your Nan will like it and you’re more than likely going to find it entertaining.