'Johnny English Reborn': What the Critics Are Saying
Eight years after the bumbling British spy farce Johnny English was released, Rowan Atkinson reprises his role in a sequel, Johnny English Reborn, which opens in the U.S. on Oct. 28.
The sequel has already opened overseas, kicking off in Australia on Sept. 15.
The films are actually based on a series of British credit card commercials starring the loose-limbed, elastic-faced comedian, with the original pulling in an impressive $160 million worldwide.
So what do the critics have to say about the second installment?
"Director Oliver Parker’s (Dorian Gray, St. Trinian’s) pacing is off and the screenplay, by Hamish McColl (Mr. Bean’s Holiday) from a story by William Davies (How to Train Your Dragon, Johnny English), fails to provide a lively enough framework for this gifted and intelligent actor’s unique physical comedy," she wrote. "Though graying at the temples, Atkinson still gamely runs through his repertoire of po-faced pratfalls and amusing eyebrow gymnastics. Best known in America as his other alter ego Mr. Bean, Atkinson has raised epic silliness to an art form, and many find his gentle, old-fashioned style a welcome shelter from the squall of profanity-dependent comedy."
The New York Times' Stephen Holden, meanwhile, wrote that the sequel is actually better than the original, even though it "may not elicit explosive laughter."
"The sequel, made with a new director, Oliver Parker, is funnier and has a stronger personality than its forerunner," he wrote. "Mr. Atkinson’s buffoonery is sly and subtle, centered on his endlessly elastic face, especially his wide brown eyes and elevator brows that do comedic jigs. The sad fact is that Mr. Atkinson’s brand of British lunacy, in which the humor breaks through a pose of stiff-upper-lip propriety, is too contained to excite the jaded American audience for gross-out pranks. Mr. Atkinson is never ferocious or lewd. At his most uninhibited he suggests Jim Carrey playing a refined Briton."
Bill Zwecker of the Chicago Sun-Times echoed that sentiment, writing that the movie is "certainly no disaster, [but] it fails to completely engage us as the spy spoof that it was intended to be."
"The problem comes when the silliness fails to generate true belly laughs, and despite the efforts of Atkinson and his very accomplished supporting cast, only makes us smile or chuckle throughout most of the film," he wrote. "Unfortunately, you might even find yourself yawning a few times, especially during chase sequences that should have you roaring instead."
The Los Angeles Times' Robert Abele wrote that the story line is a "hodgepodge of espionage flick tropes," though he has praise for Atkinson.
The character "gives Atkinson a chance to add to his prodigious slapstick abilities a well-honed gift (seen to best effect on the BBC sitcom Black Adder) for hundred-yard-stare arrogance and a withering baritone," he wrote. "The gangly performer can combine the two in the subtlest of ways for brilliant effect, and it's often the saving grace in what is an otherwise routine vehicle for Atkinson's talents. So while a Tibetan mountain prologue setting up English's long exile from Her Majesty's Secret Service spits out the requisite kung fu training gags, it's watching the actor's stoic mug develop a twitchy eye -- sparked by anyone referring to the failed mission that ruined his reputation -- that brings the most delicately silly comic pleasure."
The Associated Press' movie critic Christy Lemire also had praise for Atkinson, if not the movie.
"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," she wrote. "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."
On the other hand, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle had praise for the movie, arguing that it does provide several laugh-out-loud moments.
"Most of Johnny English Reborn is funny, but some of it is hysterically funny, with two big laughs just in the first two minutes," he wrote."If I told you that the opening sequence takes place at a martial arts training school in Asia, wouldn't you be disappointed and expect a series of comic cliches? Beverly Hills Ninja pretty much drained that milk shake in 1997 - but no. The screenwriters find new veins of humor. The story revolves around -- wait, do you care? OK, a little? -- Johnny's attempt to stop a consortium of international assassins from striking again. This is enough of a story to engage audience interest, and in fact there might be slightly too much story. The movie feels about 10 minutes too long. Still the laughs, including the big laughs, keep coming right up to the closing seconds."
On the other hand, USA Today's Scott Bowles wrote that the movie was "too long, with a few false endings to tie loose ends."
"English doesn't quite make the grade," he wrote. "The film loses momentum when Atkinson gets overtly physical in his fight and flight sequences. His humor is in his caterpillar eyebrows, not his ordinary physique. ... But at a time when action has become all effects and quick cuts, it's a pleasure watching Johnny English take the lift (with Muzak) to the top of a skyscraper while his nemesis runs. And the guy falls in love in ways spies never do: deeply. Bond need not worry about job security, but he's got competition that's easily stirred, if not shaken."