I don’t dislike Rowan Atkinson, but I prefer him when he isn’t in full on Mr. Bean mode. Sure, the Bean television series and the second Bean film (Mr. Bean’s Holiday) had flashes of comedic genius (while the first Bean film is one of the worst films ever created by human hands), but it always came across as Chaplin-lite to me. Half the time on Mr. Bean, they simply forgot to give Atkinson anything remotely funny to do and simply had him resort to pratfalls that were just too simple to be funny.
On shows like Blackadder and The Thin Blue Line, Atkinson got to display a genuine wit and talents beyond the simple slapstick that he was probably best known for. When the original Johnny English was released, I remember being hesitant about the concept. James Bond parodies are extremely simple to do and they’ve been done dozens of times before, but because of Atkinson’s ability to turn a phrase I was moderately on board. Then I saw the film and forgot pretty much everything that happened in it. I remembered not hating it, but not really being impressed or engaged by it.
This brings us to Johnny English Reborn, a film that will become seminal when speaking about forgettable films and sequels no one asked for. Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo and The Odd Couple II almost have more reasons to exist than this film. While those superfluous follow-ups strike out on huge levels, JE2 is simply a bore from start to finish with little to redeem it and little effort shown on the part of the filmmakers.
MI-7 secret agent Johnny English has been dismissed following a cock-up protecting the newly elected president of Mozambique, but is brought back into the fold by his new boss (Gillian Anderson) to take down a trio of professional assassins known as Vortex who plan to use a mysterious super weapon to kill the Chinese premier. He’s aided in his quests by his new green behind the ears partner (Daniel Kaluuya) and a behavioural psychologist (Rosamund Pike).
The plot might seem threadbare, but it is borrowing wholesale from many better films. Large elements of the story are lifted directly from The Manchurian Candidate and Grosse Pointe Blank in addition to the litany of Bond references and set pieces. Despite the simplicity of the film’s mimicry, it manages to either overthink things or just not put a lot of energy into the action on screen. This is all put into perspective by a conclusion lifted so blatantly from The Naked Gun that the Zuckers should sue over how boring the plagiarism is.
Atkinson and director Oliver Parker (An Ideal Husband, Dorian Grey) seem to think that simply by understating everything that it will become funnier. It’s not that understatement doesn’t work in a silly comedy, but when the films being parodied are over the top to begin with, the blasé nature of the jokes comes across as abject boredom. Compared to the vastly superior MacGruber, which played a similar concept in a straight manner with a wacky lead character at the centre, Johnny English Reborn feels like watching a bunch of people reading a script while sleepwalking. Like eating celery this film produces negative energy.
Aside from its lifeless nature, the film also suffers from sloppy editing, obliviously inane one liners, a script that doesn’t explain the importance of anything, and a desire to play to the youngest audience possible while still cramming in a bunch of unfunny sexual entendres. There are a few well intentioned sequences (from a bathroom meeting lifted shamelessly from Grosse Pointe Blank to a low flying helicopter chase, and a parody of the parkour sequence from Casino Royale that is funny in concept and botched in execution), but these scenes almost made me wonder if I had mono and was hallucinating sequences from better films.
For those who are fans of Atkinson’s strengths at physical comedy, there are a few pratfalls and nut shots shoehorned into the movie, but again, there is little context and little energy put into making any of them funny or resonant. It almost seems as if they were put in as afterthoughts instead of devices to move the story along.
I usually say that there are only so many ways you can describe something as being dull and boring. Those films are often the worst to write about. There have been many films this year worse than Johnny English Reborn, but few of those failures are this lifeless. Since the year is drawing to a close, I figured I would just use my stockpile of material on a film that tries so hard to being boring that it earned every single one of them.