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'The Johnny English project started in 1995, when I was doing the last commercial for a credit card company... Doing commercials always seemed like a mini-film ... so we decided to do a maxi-film.' - Rowan Atkinson, from the 'Making of JE' DVD special feature.
Brits will remember, fondly, the Barclaycard adverts starring Rowan Atkinson, which were, indeed, little spy-spoof movies featuring Johnny English and his side-kick Bough.
Imagine one of those, spread liberally over a full feature film length, add a mixture of Atkinson/Malkovich and an alarmingly talented performance from Natalie Imbruglia, and you have the recipe for one of those all-round family fun films.
THE PLOT (Mini-Spoiler)
MI7 have suffered a terrible loss. At Agent One’s funeral, the remaining cream of Britain’s espionage crop are all tragically killed by a bomb in the coffin. Except one.
Johnny English, a spy so junior he has been left in charge of the car park, as the last remaining operative is tasked with protecting the recently restored Crown Jewels at a party for their unveiling to Her Majesty.
Of course, they get stolen, and it is up to English to find out by whom.
This is the starting point for a plot that makes a few interesting twists and turns before an ending that is as predictable as it is well-executed. You don’t watch this kind of film for the plot, however, you watch it for the comedy.
This is the first time that I have seen Ms. Imbruglia act since her Aussie Soap years, unless you count a slightly theatrical performance in the video for her hit single ‘Torn’. It was a good, solid, performance, coupled with reasonable comic timing, and bringing some essential glamour to the film. After all, it is a spy movie.
John Malkovich, sporting a fake French accent, has to be heard to be believed. The trouble is, it is not particularly believable; he sounds like John Malkovich pretending to be French. Otherwise, a top performance, but with his experience, you don’t expect anything less.
The film is a vehicle for Rowan Atkinson’s brand of understated humour, and the character fits his attitude to comedy like a glove. Those who remember the carefully articulated insults of Blackadder towards his man servant will know what adding a voice to the physical comedy can produce.
At his best, Rowan Atkinson is unsurpassed, and here, as Johnny English, the spy who finds himself pulled from behind his desk, and thrust into the field, he delivers a solid all-round Atkinson performance.
That the character has illusions of grandeur, and has a little difficulty separating reality from the fantasy of the glamorous spy that lives inside his head, helps the script to hit the spot time and time again with incredible faux pas, errors of judgement, and lucky escapes.
In fact, the rare times when he manages to pull off the cool move, or makes the right decision, purely by chance, provide some of the most enjoyable parts of the film.
Much is made of the interplay between English and his sane sidekick Bough (Ben Miller), which works well, but could have been made much more of. In fact, there seems to be plenty of scope left in the relationship for a JE2.
Supporting actors include Kevin McNally, who makes a great Prime Minister, and Oliver Ford Davies, a notable Archbishop of Canterbury.
I cannot remember the last time when I laughed out loud at a British film. Actually, I’m lying, it was Four Weddings. This just goes to show what a dire collection we have been subjected to in recent years.
I’ll admit, though, that you have to like Rowan Atkinson, understand the British humour, and ignore the petty anti-French attitude of the film, without which there would be no plot. This is, in fact, the only failing point of the film, and dates it slightly, taking the gleam off an otherwise highly polished production.
As a footnote, more than anything else, here are the DVD extras:
Making of JE
A look at how the film was made. Standard fare, but with some witty comments from Atkinson about the film, and some good natured banter, from the director, Peter Howitt.
Why the makes of the film decided to put some of the best scenes in a DVD extra is beyond me. Answer questions to gain access to seven deleted scenes, which should have been left in the original film. After all, its’ not as if they’re going to spoil the plot, is it?
DVD ROM Extras
Put the DVD in your PC, and gain access to some more features, which seem to include games and screensavers.
Good review of the film, but not so good of the DVD - things like price, availability, more info on the extras would be helpful. I'm not about to rush out and buy this, mind - I thought it was OK at the cinema, but not all that fantastic... Cate.