06 October 2012

2LR: Johnny English Reborn

Typically, you know what you're getting with a sequel.  The old characters come back (at least the ones who got paid), the adventure feels somewhat derivative but it's a comfortable feeling because you don't have to spend quite so much time giving character setting.

When the movie involves Rowan Atkinson as the lead, there's also not a whole lot of need for character exposition.  Between "Mr. Bean" and his movies in the U.S., you know that you're going to get a comedy with slapstick and crazy expressions.

As a Johnny English veteran, I was familiar with how Atkinson spoofed spy movies in the past.  His character was as extreme a bungle as possible, and got himself in so many goofy situations with the patented Atkinson mugging.

Johnny English Reborn started much the same way.  It was actually reminiscent of one of my more memorable Atkinson movies, Hot Shots! Part Deux, in that he probably trained at the same temple that Topper Harley was located at by Huddleston and the guy who now plays Granger on "NCIS: LA".  One of the first images that the movie treated the viewers to was Johnny English dragging a rock with a rope attached between his legs, presumably tied to his balls.  The whole time, Rowan Atkinson's goatee makes him look like a poor man's version of Joe Mantegna (Rossi from "Criminal Minds")

From there, we join Johnny as he reenters the British Secret Service, as the spoof continues with the Service's sponsorship and Johnny playing with Gillian Anderson's cat.  (No blue humor, promise.)  He goes to Asia first, and that's the first indication that this isn't entirely a spoof movie.  While in the first chase and first fight sequence, the Asian street tough starts in with the parkour routine, while Johnny does his best imitation of British stiff upper lip -- if there's a barbed-wire fence, the Asian guy goes over it while Johnny uses the gate.  It segues into the boat chase, where the Asian tough uses a Zodiac raft and Johnny commandeers a yacht.  The final fight sequence shows Johnny as... surprisingly competent.

And that's the major twist with this movie.  It's a sequel in character only; in tone, it shifted from sheer spoof movie to comedic action romp.  After all, the ending sequence shows Johnny being incompetent yet extremely competent.  This change in tone comes with a requirement for the viewer... you have to adjust from watching expecting jokes at all times to being able to allow the movie some measure of suspension of disbelief in order to accept Johnny English as an actual agent, though there are still more than a large share of comedic set pieces (the golf course and helicopter flight should send pretty much anyone looking for a laugh into guffaws.)

The other caveat is that the writers have a thinner margin to deal with.  They have to make sure that the comedy part doesn't intrude too far into the actual plot.  Rowan Atkinson's faces and mugging for the camera happened at the end of the movie, but they were a vital part of a plot point that was not intended to be played completely for laughs.

In my opinion, the writers really did a decent job of this, and this allowed me to give the movie enough belief for me to enjoy the finished product.  I think though that the whole metaphor of the movie is focused on the image of dragging the rock by the balls.  You're either going to succeed or fail miserably, there's no middle ground... which I'm sure that the viewers would agree with.

Final rating for Johnny English Reborn: 2.8 out of four.  I would certainly not be unhappy to rewatch in the future.  This leaves me wondering if they try another sequel and if they do, which direction they go from here.

Last note, I want more movies to present me master-of-disguise assassins who happen to be older Asian ladies... she had almost no dialogue, but all of her scenes were enjoyable.

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