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DVD Reviews

HTF Review: Johnny English

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#1 of 17 OFFLINE   Jason Perez

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Posted January 10 2004 - 01:19 AM

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Johnny English

Studio: Universal

Year: 2003

Rated: PG

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.

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.

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 Posted Image !


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.

Deleted Scenes
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.

Spy Tips
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.

Character Profiles
Information on the following characters, and two of each character’s personal items, is included:

--- Johnny English
--- Pascal Sauvage
--- Lorna Campbell
--- Bough

Observation Test
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)
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Extras: Posted Image Posted Image
Overall: Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

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.

Stay tuned…

Release Date:
January 13th, 2004
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#2 of 17 OFFLINE   stewart borland

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Posted January 10 2004 - 10:12 AM

We got this in the UK last August, and I really enjoyed it. I am a big Atkinson fan but allowing for that I think the review is slightly harsh.
Obviously it all comes down to personal taste, but I'd say give it a shot - it made me laugh, and has since.
For me it's a bit like the Pink Panther films - no not as good - but repeatable viewing when you're in the mood for something light.

#3 of 17 OFFLINE   Cees Alons

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Posted January 10 2004 - 11:07 AM

If I understand it well, Johnny English actually has been an ad-character for some time on British television and they decided to extend the character into a feature film.

I'm sure those very short sketches must have been hilarious, but although we had a few good laughs during that film, hilarious is not the word, exactly.


#4 of 17 OFFLINE   John H Ross

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Posted January 10 2004 - 11:12 AM

The burned-in captions on the R2 edition were replaced by "adorable" (YUCK!) player-generated captions, as with the more recent Bond movies :-(

Can I assume that the original, theatrical burned-in captions have been retained on the R1 disc?


#5 of 17 OFFLINE   ChrisBEA



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Posted January 10 2004 - 03:38 PM

This was a dull and easily forgettable film. It's a shame cuz ATkinson is a very talented funnyman....
It didn't help that Austin Powers has all but killed the Bond/spy spoof genre.....

#6 of 17 OFFLINE   ClaytonMG


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Posted January 10 2004 - 05:28 PM

I didn't really like the film. It had some funny parts but when I saw it I was pretty angry. I worked at a theater that decided to get this film instead of Bad Boys II. Anyway, as with all films, I say judge for yourself. Just cuz one person didn't like it (or lots of people) doesn't mean you wont. But the review is right on about the film (in my eyes at least)


#7 of 17 OFFLINE   Jason Harbaugh

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Posted January 10 2004 - 08:47 PM

Saw it in the theatre with a audience full of Atkinson fans and enjoyed it quite a bit. It isn't his best work, but I enjoyed it none-the-less as did most of the audience I saw it with. Plenty of laugh out loud moments.

I will definitely pick this up.

Also if you want to see Rowan Atkinson "do his thing" I would also suggest checking out Rat Race. Some great stuff by him in it. Posted Image

#8 of 17 OFFLINE   Jason Perez

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Posted January 11 2004 - 01:03 PM

Hello everyone!


You know, when I started doing this last July, I said I would be honest. Of course, this might upset some people who happen to like a certain film I don't, but please remember one very important thing...my view on a film is by no means the final word on that particular film. I am just a guy who really likes movies, and who hopes to provide some information which may be of use to those looking to rent or purchase a particular DVD.

I always try to keep the members of the Forum in mind when reviewing a title, but ultimately, I think I will serve most of you best by being honest. Bottom line...if you liked this title, the DVD should not disappoint (well, maybe the extras might)! As I stated above, at least the transfer is pretty good and the audio track is rockin'!

I am glad you liked JE, I was just hoping for a little more that I didn't get out of the film. I guess the beautiful thing about movies is that we each have some that we identify with and hold dear for our own reasons. Thanks for your comments though, and take care!!!


Damn!!! I totally forgot about Rat Race! Now that was a pretty funny movie, and Rowan Atkinson was at his best in it. I second that recommendation!

Regards everyone, and thanks for making this site the great HT resource that it is!!!
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#9 of 17 OFFLINE   dpippel



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Posted January 11 2004 - 01:53 PM

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.
I think you've hit the nail squarely on the head with this observation. Johnny English, whatever it's origins, came off as a blatant attempt to cash in on the whole Austin Powers thing. Not only did it attempt to do so very poorly, it attempted to do so about a year and a half too late. I saw the trailer for this film three times in the theater and it was met with groans or complete silence from the audience in each instance. Why Atkinson signed onto this mess is a mystery, because he truly is a real comedic talent. The man just needs to find the right vehicle. Sadly, Johnny English wasn't it. Maybe he should reconsider his agent...

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#10 of 17 OFFLINE   Frank_Ber



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Posted January 12 2004 - 05:05 AM

Another James Bond spoof that I really enjoyed recently was Stephen Chow's From Beijing with Love. I am a big fan of Atkinson but have yet to see Jonny English.

#11 of 17 OFFLINE   stewart borland

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Posted January 12 2004 - 07:09 AM

Cees - yes a brilliant series of Barclaycard adverts - some of the best I've ever seen - I wish they'd added them as extras. There is a tiny clip of one on our disc where he's talking about sucking out the poison from some guy.... until he realises where the snake bit himPosted Image
Jason, many thanks for taking the time to reply. I fully understand how personal a thing movies can be, and clearly your reveiw has hit just right with everyone who has replied to this thread - guess I was just trying to get a few more to give it a try!
Thanks again though, no explanations necessary.

#12 of 17 OFFLINE   Jimmy M

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Posted January 12 2004 - 09:18 AM

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.

That was not Johnny, rather it was (as the title card indicated) the Baron of I can't remember where, who for some reason, also was played by Rowan Atkinson. I don't know what posessed them to choose him to also play this role, but I'm glad they cut these scenes out. It would have been confusing to suddenly have another character played by Atkinson appear out of nowhere.

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#13 of 17 OFFLINE   Philip Verdieck

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Posted January 12 2004 - 01:53 PM

As I understand, the movie did over 100M internationally.

I too, really wish Rowan would find the right vehicle. I own all of SlackBladder on VHS and DVD. I held off on the Bean series because of people flaming the way A&E released it.

#14 of 17 OFFLINE   SteveGon


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Posted January 12 2004 - 03:35 PM

I'll rent this - hey, it's only a buck.

If you want to see Atkinson in a good part, check out The Tall Guy - he's hilarious as Jeff Goldblum's caustic and egocentric boss. Posted Image

#15 of 17 OFFLINE   John KB

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Posted January 14 2004 - 01:04 PM

I decided to give this movie a spin, and I'm glad I did. Nothing great, of course. But I did laugh on more than one occasion. It was a fun movie, I thought. Of course I had very low expectations!

#16 of 17 OFFLINE   Kevin Thompson

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Posted March 08 2004 - 10:40 PM

After renting Johnny English, I liked the film enough to buy a copy. I'm sure I'll watch it several times, on occasions when I want a mindless laugh.

I enjoyed this film much better than the Austin Powers movies--especially Goldmember, which I care for.

The negative comments about John Malkovitch's accent are fairly accurate, though. Posted Image

One of the things I liked about the film was that even though some of the gags were predictable, they were executed so well I did not mind. For example, the error made while parachuting is so obvious that every viewer will see it coming--but it works anyway, due to the way it is played out.
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#17 of 17 OFFLINE   RichardCrowther


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Posted April 22 2004 - 09:37 PM

Can I assume that the original, theatrical burned-in captions have been retained on the R1 disc?

Any confirmation on this?


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