Film Length: 88 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Audio: English, French, & Spanish - Dolby Digital 5.1
Why can’t Rowan Atkinson’s magic translate to the big screen? The man is incredibly funny and talented, and despite the disaster that was the Mr. Bean movie, Rowan has made me laugh so many times that I really hoped Universal’s Johnny English would be a success. To me, Rowan Atkinson is one of Britain’s premiere funnymen, especially when it comes to physical comedy. Indeed, Atkinson is largely responsible for both the brilliant BBC series Black Adder and the slapstick Mr. Bean television show. I would assume, however, that most of us Yankees will be more likely to associate him with his turn as the odd-ball minister in Four Weddings and a Funeral or his voice work in The Lion King than his BBC material.
Sadly, despite Atkinson’s presence, Johnny English turns out to be a pretty forgettable effort. The Austin Powers trilogy, which spoofs the James Bond series has been wildly popular here in the good ol’ US of A, and though Johnny English is cut from the same cloth, this uninspired hit-and-mostly-miss comedy feels like it arrives to the party unfashionably late. In Johnny English, British comedian extraordinaire Rowan Atkinson stars as the woefully inept title character, a secret agent promoted from paper shuffling when all of England’s best spies are killed by an explosion at a funeral for an agent lost in the line of duty.
Since all of the super-agents are no longer living, English is promoted, and given the assignment of guarding the crown jewels during an exhibition. As you might expect, the precious baubles are immediately stolen right in front of this buffoonish character’s face, and English and his partner, Bough (Ben Miller), must track them down, with the assistance of mystery agent Lorna Campbell (Australian songstress Natalie Imbruglia).
Things soon become more complicated for Mr. English, as while pursuing the perpetrators on a tow truck hauling away his Aston Martin, he unwittingly stumbles onto the convoluted plot of a French aristocrat, Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich – who puts the worst French accent in history on film here), to become the King of England. Basically, Sauvage’s moronic plan, written by Neal Purvis, who worked on the last two James Bond films, and William Davies, is such a tangled mess that viewers shouldn’t bother even trying to understand it.
In my estimation, I think that the writers decided to forego anything resembling a coherent, unique, or interesting scheme by Sauvage, in order to focus on generating laughs, although the end result is filled with precious few. Indeed, many of the film's jokes and gags are so predictable that much of the intended humor is undermined. And since every spy flick needs a knockout female lead, the gorgeous Natalie Imbruglia, is on hand to play a thinly drawn character that is inexplicably drawn to the extraordinarily clumsy (and not very handsome) Johnny English.
As if all of the above is not bad enough, what little semblance there is of a plot completely unravels during the film’s final minutes, as the resolution depends not upon Agent English's dumb luck, but…well, if you really want to watch this crime against the art of cinema, than I guess I shouldn’t spoil the ending. What really makes me mad though, is that it seems Atkinson was game, but director Peter Howitt appears to have no idea where how to get the maximum comic effect from his star’s antics. The editing doesn’t help much in that regard either, as the actual jokes are frequently chopped out of the film. Instead, we receive the precursors to the jokes and then the either confusing or ineffectual payoffs.
Ultimately, I believe Johnny English’s brief running time is yet another piece of evidence how thin this material is. Really, there are no more than a handful of mildly amusing moments, and the substitution of an abundance of toilet humor for comedy during the latter stages of the film was particularly irksome. If you want to watch Rowan Atkinson do his thing, check out some of his Black Adder work, or even Four Weddings and a Funeral. If you are looking for a spy spoof, reach for In Like Flint, or any Austin Powers film. Whatever you do, please don’t give those responsible for this farce any reason to make another.
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Johnny English is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) by Universal, and the results of their transfer process look pretty good. In particular colors are nicely saturated, yet do not bleed, and flesh tones are spot-on. Whites are clean, and blacks are deep and true as well, leading to excellent shadow detail.
In addition to solid color reproduction, the image is extremely clean (as most recent productions tend to turn out), and fine detail is above average. About the only negative aspect of this transfer, and “negative” is probably a very harsh term in this case, is a bit of edge enhancement. However, I must point out that the resultant halos are not much of a distraction at all. On the whole, this is a solid transfer.
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
The Dolby Digital track on Johnny English really shines! It is boisterous and aggressive, with plenty of rear channel usage and powerful, floor shaking bass response! Although the soundstage is not quite as wide open as I would have hoped for, dialogue is easily discernable, and music and effects reproduction is well above what I expected when I put this disc into my trusty Panny CP-72. Overall, Universal did a respectable job of bringing Johnny English’s misadventures to life with this mix!!!
A word of caution…the audio on this disc seemed quite a bit louder than most of the DVDs in my collection (which is pretty large). If you decide to go on this adventure with Agent English, you might want to dial back the normal volume at which you watch films…at least for starters !
The Making of Johnny English
The “Making of Johnny English” is a fairly typical two-part promotional documentary, featuring interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. I am sure everyone is used to this type of featurette by now, and although I can’t think of any new angles for them, they can still be worthwhile if they are insightful. Unfortunately, this Johnny English featurette is particularly dry, and certainly not too informative. Aside from some neat footage of the crew staging special effects and action sequences, this extra was as forgettable as the film.
There are a total of seven deleted scenes, most of which feature Johnny speaking with Sauvage (in disguise of course) about his linkage to the British royal family. In all honesty, none of these scenes was particularly amusing, and I sincerely doubt including them in the final cut would have made Johnny English a better film.
This “Spy Tips” extra is so short, I am hesitant to call it a featurette. It basically consists of Rowan Atkinson spewing out some tips on how to be a successful spy, which are then debunked by clips from the film. Rather amusing, but again, if you blink, you might miss it.
Information on the following characters, and two of each character’s personal items, is included:
--- Johnny English
--- Pascal Sauvage
--- Lorna Campbell
This bonus feature is essentially a trivia game, which features five clips from the film, and a question following each clip. If you answer all five questions correctly, you are “treated” to a deleted scene. Unfortunately, this deleted scene is one of the seven that can be viewed without playing this game.
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
For several reasons, Johnny English is a film that not only did not work for me, but a film that I cannot recommend, despite an above average transfer and very good Dolby Digital track. I guess the old adage you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear applies here, and the extras, although plentiful, are not worthy of anyone except a hardcore Johnny English fan. Somehow, I cannot imagine there are many of those. Rowan, you deserve a lot better!!! For that matter, so do your fans.
January 13th, 2004