Johnny English is never going to go down as one of the classic Rowan Atkinson characters to rub shoulders with Blackadder, the Schoolmaster or even Mr Bean. The first Johnny English was met by underwhelming reviews and then pretty much disappeared. Now eight years later comes a sequel no-one really expected but perhaps that’s not a bad thing.
Since the slightly incomprehensible events of the first film (which involved some guff about John Malkovich turning Britain into a prison by forcing the Queen’s abdication) M I 7 superspy Johnny has been disgraced and sacked after a botched security operation in Mozambique and is rediscovering himself in Tibet by dragging heavy rocks along the ground by his balls. He’s soon called back into action to investigate a conspiracy to assassinate the Chinese premier.
The plot is pretty forgetable and so, to be honest, are many of the jokes but while it lasts Johnny English Reborn is a fun, warm and inoffensive lark that kids should enjoy. Like the first film the script is fairly perfunctory and offers Rowan Atkinson little opportunity to flex his vocal and physical comedy muscles but the film’s lack of ambition is strangely endearing.
There’s a checklist that most James Bond sendups try to stick to fairly rigidly and Johnny ticks off a good few of them. Gillian Anderson and Atkinson’s Blackadder co-star Tim McInnenrny fulfil the equivalent roles of Q and M respectively. There are gadgets aplenty from a rocket propelled wheelchair to a missile launcher concealed in an umbrella. Many of the story beats mimic Bond films like GoldenEye and the set pieces draw on everything from Casino Royale to Where Eagles Dare.
Standout laughs include a helicopter hitching a lift on an ambulance, a faulty office chair and a fun scene in which Johnny has been drugged to obey all commands given to him, look out also for one of the subtlest and most inoffensive insertions of the F word ever.
Johnny English Reborn won’t set anyone’s world alight and many may find themselves yawning and yearning for Atkinson to be given some better material but for what it is the film has just enough charm and spirit to raise a few smiles.