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A spoof spy thriller. During the course of the story we follow our hero as he attempts to single-handedly save the country from falling into the hands of a despot.
For more about Johnny English and the Johnny English Blu-ray release, see Johnny English Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on April 24, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Rowan Atkinson, John Malkovich, Natalie Imbruglia, Ben Miller, Oliver Ford Davies, Tim Pigott-Smith
Director: Peter Howitt
» See full cast & crew
Johnny English Blu-ray Review
The spy who stayed out in the cold.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, April 24, 2012
As hard as it may be for some of us to understand, Rowan Atkinson is evidently an acquired taste. This fussy, mannered comic actor, who with his pop eyes resembles something akin to another version of Marty Feldman, drives some people crazy with his tic filled performances, while others (myself among them) find him more often than not hilarious. For every fan of Blackadder or Mr. Bean or indeed Johnny English there is an equal and opposite derider claiming that these efforts, and Atkinson in particular, are lackluster and even worthless. So to all the Atkinson haters (or at least dislikers) out there, make no mistake about it: you won't like much if anything about Johnny English, a project tailor made for Atkinson's patented blend of buffoonery and grimacing facial expressions. And it must be admitted that even for Atkinson fans, Johnny English is probably not as funny as might have been hoped for, with a screenplay that tries too hard to be clever in spoofing the eminently spoofable James Bond franchise, an idea that American audiences experienced a generation (or two) before Johnny English hit the big screen with the inspired Mel Brooks – Buck Henry series Get Smart! (the less said about the Steve Carell film reboot of that series, the better), and which international audiences had flocked to with Mike Myers' ultra-silly Austin Powers trilogy just a few years ago. Atkinson's shtick has more often than not been built around a persona of a bumbling idiot who wreaks havoc on everything around him, but who of course remains clueless to his inherent incompetence and just keeps soldiering through, usually somehow to an improbably happy ending. And that for the most part sums up Johnny English, albeit with a bunch of spy gizmos thrown in for good measure.
There frankly isn't a lot to Johnny English. Johnny is a workaday shlub in British Intelligence (in Johnny's case, a definite oxymoron, emphasis on the moron), who due to his own incompetence manages to get every other field agent killed in an early scene. That puts Johnny in charge of protecting the Crown Jewels as they're shown to the public in the Tower of London after having been "restored" with copious funds from a slimy French owner – operator of high tech prisons, Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich, doing perhaps the worst French accent ever, hopefully intentionally). Need it be said that by the end of the unveiling the jewels have disappeared and Sauvage is the prime suspect? That sets up the central plot arc where Johnny must find and reclaim the jewels while taking on the nefarious Sauvage.
A film like Johnny English isn't especially complex or overly ambitious and it of course deals with types rather than fleshed out characters, positing our bumbling hero, who never met a pratfall he didn't like, and the manically hyperbolic Sauvage, who in Malkovich's portrayal should be stuffed full due to all the scenery chewing involved. Therefore Johnny English must rise or fall on its execution, and in that regard the results are decidedly mixed. There are some fantastic gags here, as in that early scene when Johnny assures his superior that the site is the most secure location in the world, which is of course followed by an earth shaking calamity that kills virtually everyone else in the scene.
But at other times director Peter Howitt completely deflates his own punchlines through inept staging. In the scene where the Crown Jewels are displayed and then all hell breaks loose, Johnny ends up clobbering an official in the dark and then claims that the misdeed was done by an unknown assailant who has run into an adjoining room. Johnny of course offers to go take care of the bad guy, who obviously doesn't exist. He then stages a faux fight with the supposed villain, with the door to the room slightly ajar, so that the impeccably well dressed audience in attendance can gasp in horror as Johnny momentarily appears in the space between the door and the jamb, ostensibly wrestling with the unseen super villain. But then Howitt stupidly cuts to coverage from inside the room, showing Johnny dancing around all by his lonesome. How dunderheaded is that? We already know there isn't anyone there, and the joke is seeing a small strip of Johnny in the door opening appearing to be fighting with someone, with the audience's reaction generating some of the laughs. Cutting to inside the room completely defeats the purpose of the scene and robs it of much of its comedic impact.
Atkinson is such an odd looking man that any attempt for him to come across as anything other than your slightly (okay, maybe more than slightly) eccentric British Uncle falls flat, and so some of the scenes in the film where Johnny plays it more or less straight simply don't work. The film is best in setting up and then delivering a series of fun sight gags, usually built around Johnny's incredible obliviousness to what's going on around him or his equal incompetence in handling items or dealing with supposedly everyday events. Atkinson is a supremely gifted physical comedian, one who is able to elicit laughs from even substandard material, and he does manage to provoke giggles fairly consistently throughout the film. Malkovich is a piece of work here; one has to wonder if he was "herbally enhanced" (or something similar) for much of this shoot, because his Sauvage is just a truly weird characterization, which unfortunately doesn't automatically convert into laughs.
For all its lame brained antics and lack of true comic innovation, Johnny English is breezy enough and it benefits from being quick and largely painless. If a bit doesn't find its target, there's another one soon on the way, and while the film's overall batting average isn't much above the .500 mark (if even that), the moments that do land provide some solid guffaws, and Atkinson, as bizarre as he always is, is never less than watchable. The film may not be anything close to a classic, but it found its audience and has thus far spawned one sequel, so chances are for better or worse Johnny will be wreaking havoc in the spy genre for years to come.
Johnny English Blu-ray, Video Quality
Johnny English is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Universal with a VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1. This is a nicely sharp and well detailed high definition presentation that offers excellent and pleasing fine detail, decently saturated and accurate looking (if not very robust) colors and an overall natural filmic look. The transfer offers great clarity, especially in some of the outdoor locations (which also sport nice depth of field), though in a couple of key sequences shadow detail is negligible (perhaps intentional, as things are playing out in darkened environments).
Johnny English Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Johnny English features a wonderfully bombastic lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that provides sterling fidelity and some nice and consistent surround activity. The soundtrack here is a whirlwind of often very fun foley effects. There is a jolt of LFE early in the film that will probably startle a lot of viewers, and the film then goes on to provide some other great sound effects, like the whizzing zoom of a tranquilizer dart that exits the pen Johnny stupidly plays with in an MI7 office. Dialogue is presented cleanly and clearly and the score (including the theme song sung by Robbie Williams) also sounds great.
Johnny English Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Johnny English Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Johnny English is a decidedly mixed bag and viewer reactions are probably going to be split along "like him or loathe him" lines with regard to Rowan Atkinson. Those who hate the mugging actor will probably want to stay far away from this film, as it offers little else to recommend it other than Atkinson's peculiarly unique performing style. Those who have a fondness for this bug eyed, weirdly grimacing little man (and I count myself among that group) will probably be more tolerant of the film's shortcomings since Atkinson is so winning, if intentionally annoying, as Johnny. The film is a hit or miss assemblage of gags, with a lot falling flat, but others being quite good and guffaw worthy. John Malkovich as the villain is just plain weird, which actually might be a calling card for a certain class of viewer. This Blu-ray offers good video and superior audio, but those other than rabid Atkinson fans will probably want to check this out as a rental before committing to a purchase.
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Johnny English Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Johnny English Reborn Blu-ray - December 21, 2011
Universal Studios Home Entertainment will bring Johnny English Reborn to Blu-ray next year. Comedian Rowan Atkinson (Johnny English) returns as the title character, a bumbling secret agent forced out of sabbatical when he learns of a secret plan to assassinate ...
• Johnny English Blu-ray - December 16, 2011
Next year, Universal Studios Home Entertainment will bring Johnny English to Blu-ray. An affectionate spoof of the James Bond action-thrillers, this film stars Rowan Atkinson (Love Actually) as a bumbling secret agent whose pratfalls and mishaps often put him ...
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