Film Review: ‘Johnny English’ fires wildly at targets

You probably weren’t clamoring for a sequel to the 2003 British spy parody “Johnny English,” which was far more successful overseas than it was in the United States.

Still, here’s “Johnny English Reborn,” again starring Rowan Atkinson. As the secret agent of the title, Johnny thinks he’s as suave and resourceful as James Bond. Mostly, though, he bumbles his way from one situation to the next with the help of all the obligatory weapons and gadgets, none of which is terribly clever or creative.

Johnny is back at the agency, MI7 (hardy har har), after a few years away with a bit of a stigma attached to him. Seems he massively messed up an assignment in Mozambique, and his new boss, Pegasus (Gillian Anderson, trotting out her flat British accent again), lets him know she won’t tolerate those kinds of mistakes.

For his next job, Johnny must find out who is behind a plot to assassinate the Chinese premier. And even though he’s been training in the remote mountains of Tibet all this time (in an admittedly amusing montage), Johnny still isn’t quite up for the challenge.

Director Oliver Parker’s film relies on much of the same tired, repetitive spy spoofs as the “Austin Powers” movies, and much of the same false confidence in the face of absurd danger. That any of this works, ever, is a testament to Atkinson’s skills as a comedian. You can sense him slumming and straining but he’s so gifted physically, he makes pretty idiotic material more enjoyable than it should be. Slapstick requires a delicacy and finesse that Atkinson most certainly possesses, but the writing just isn’t there.

Rosamund Pike brings her usual combination of beauty and smarts to the role of the agency’s psychologist, and manages to provide a bit more substance than was available to her on the page. But even given her formidable presence, it’s hard to believe that her character would ever give Johnny the time of day, much less fall for him. Dominic West, meanwhile, co-stars as a fellow agent who is so obviously sleazy and menacing from the start, there’s nowhere else for his character to go.

Johnny English isn’t reborn so much as reheated, and his aim hasn’t improved after all these years.

“Johnny English Reborn,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG for mild action violence, rude humor, some language and brief sensuality. Running time: 101 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

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