Johnny English
Grade: D+
Year: 2003
Director: Peter Howill
Writer: Neal Purvis & Robert Wade
Genre: Comedy
Rated: PG
By Scott Spicciati

Here’s the mission objective:

Parachute from the cargo plane onto a building and infiltrate the enemy headquarters. Caution, an identical building sits adjacent but it’s not the location of the target. Be sure to land on the right building and not the hospital where you will not find the target.

Guess which building English lands on?

“Johnny English” is yet another movie of the spy genre although it is being called a parody. The problem with that label is that parodies are supposed to be funny, “Johnny English” almost attempts to be a legitimate film and hardly has any material worth smiling over.

Before becoming Britain’s top secret agent, Johnny English makes a living by starring in credit card commercials. He’s also in the British Secret Service, but maintains a desk job where he can’t screw anything up. That is until a bomb kills off all of the other agents forcing him into active duty, well--because he is the only agent left. We soon learn that his assignment is to prevent the bad guy from stealing the Crown Jewels (Maybe from taking over the catnip factory would have been funnier, and more original).

The bad guy in this case is Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich), a French billionaire whose accent is as bad if not worse than Steven Seagal’s from any of his movies (“Half Past Dead” would be a good example if anyone saw it). Anyway, Pascal wants those Jewels. He’s the proud owner of an international chain of prisons worth billions, but he’s still willing to put his freedom in jeopardy because he wants those Jewels.

Entrusted to protect the jewels in his custom-built safe located in the Tower of London, his plans call for him to stage a fake robbery where he will then steal the jewels and eventually take the throne when the Archbishop of Canterbury crowns him. If you’re wondering about the latter part of the plot description, he puts a gun to the head of one of Queen Elizabeth’s dogs and forces her to sign the paperwork.

Why does Pascal want the throne, you ask? Let’s just say his plans would inspire a Hollywood script for a movie titled “Escape From Great Britain.” But Pascal is so intent on completing his personal mission that he has two plans to accomplish his goal, which is unfortunate for us because we have to endure the running time that allows for both plans.

Pop-star Natalie Imbruglia has the important job of portraying the beautiful co-agent, a staple in the spy genre. She plays Lorna Campbell, the agent who occasionally shows up to be Lorna Campbell and the beautiful character on-demand.

There are only two funny scenes in the movie, and I’m being generous by saying they’re funny. English breaks up the wrong funeral and utterly humiliates the patrons at the service, doing everything but actually ripping off the coffin door until his sidekick Bough (pronounced “Boff,” played by Ben Miller), saves the day by convincing the shocked crowd that English is a mental institution escapee. Bough the sidekick is the competent agent, although he is one of those who puts every word from English’s mouth down in his notes for reference purposes.

The other funny scene takes place when English and Bough witness one of Pascal’s evil plans. When faced with enemy henchmen, English mistakenly injects one of them with truth serum when he supposed to inject him with muscle relaxant. Rather than render the henchman disabled, the thug is unintentionally turned into a human directory, pointing English and Bough in the right direction when they’re making their escape. The henchman looks puzzled as he wonders why he told the agents how to escape.

With that said, watching this movie is wasting time. We’ve all seen the ‘incompetent’ routine done before, probably best in TV’s “Get Smart,” but films have done it too. The problem here is that there is nothing fresh or original in “Johnny English’s” script. All we can depend on is predicting what act of silliness English will get himself into next.

But goofiness can only go so far. Austin Powers could at least hold his weapon properly and safely drive his shagmobile; Johnny English--as we get to see--can’t even use a treadmill. When a film stops its plot to show us that English can’t use a treadmill, we wonder why he is even allowed anywhere near British Royalty. I wouldn’t even trust him with the lawn care duties let alone secret service.

I really didn’t want to be this harsh on the film. But even a “C-” rating would suggest “Johnny English” is worthy of a late-night rental when there’s absolutely nothing else to chose from. Nope, a night like that calls for you to pick up a book. If you’re not the reading type and still want something to with the film, the soundtrack by Robbie Williams is a great listen, that is unless you’ve seen the movie first, whereas the soundtrack may continually bring up “Johnny English” nostalgia.

“Johnny English” is only rated PG for some reason. I guess the members of the MPAA must have been sleeping during the sewage venture scene and the one where the Archbishop stands before a crowd exposing his naked rear for a solid never-ending few seconds.

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© Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. Contact Editor: Scott Spicciati