Oliver Parker | 97 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | UK, USA & France / English | PG / PG
From the director of Oscar Wilde adaptation An Ideal Husband, Oscar Wilde adaptation The Importance of Being Earnest, and Oscar Wilde adaptation Dorian Gray — plus the surely-of-comparable-quality St. Trinian’s and St. Trinian’s 2 — comes this belated sequel no one asked for.
I found the first Johnny English film to be passingly enjoyable, but as I settled down to watch this one I realised I could barely remember a thing about it. That doesn’t matter though, because — as the “Reborn” tag might imply — this one basically starts over. Following an incident in Mozambique, English (Rowan Atkinson) has been retired to a Tibetan monastery (at which point your cliché alarm may start flaring. Try to ignore it because it’s not going to find anything in the film to stop it), but is called back to active service when a CIA agent will speak only to him about a plot to assassinate the Chinese PM.
Perhaps the best word to describe Johnny English Reborn would be “sedate”. Even the action sequences, of which there are a couple, can’t muster much speed, let alone jeopardy. Two of them are very nearly inspired: a Casino Royale-derived parkour chase, in which English uses his intelligence to find more practical ways around obstacles — but which has the side effect of sucking any dynamism out of the action; and a chase through the streets of London, with English in a souped-up wheelchair — but which feels like some sporadic bursts of concepts rather than a fully-conceived sequence.
Humour comes in dribs and drabs, most of it eliciting a chuckle at best. At worst, it’s blatantly borrowed from somewhere else: the monastery opening (a dozen Rambo III spoofs), punching a misidentified disguised woman (Austin Powers), fighting himself when under mind control (I can’t even think of a specific example it feels so familiar), and more. It’s all very gentle and old-fashioned, but without the wit or class those kinds of comedies can deliver at their best.
Plus, as with so many British films, you can have fun playing Spot The Cast Member. Famous names abound, with one or two recognisable faces cropping up in tiny parts too. Apparently Ben Miller, English’s sidekick from the original adverts and first movie, filmed a cameo that was ultimately cut. A lot of people seem moderately upset about that on forums. I like Miller, but to be honest I’d forgotten he was in the first one.
Having resurrected Bean out of the blue in the late ’00s, and English out of the blue in the early ’10s, I can only assume later this decade Atkinson will attempt to trot out Blackadder for a belated last hurrah. Or maybe Richard Curtis will stop him. Or more likely turn it into a polemic about Africa. While Reborn is fine, it doesn’t instil the notion that we should be looking forward to any more such resurrections.