$8.50 ticket on a scale of $0 to $13.50
“Johnny English Reborn,” the latest vehicle for British comic actor Rowan Atkinson, is an amusing trifle of a spoof of James Bond movies. The sequel to the 2002 “Johnny English” in which Atkinson also played the title role, pic, helmed by Oliver Parker, and written by William Davies, Hamish McColl, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade, features all the usual shtick one has learned to expect from Atkinson down to the funny faces. Atkinson’s English is the thespian brother of Don Adams’ Maxwell Smart.
Plot is straightforward, Johnny English, now the most disgraced agent in Her Majesty’s Secret Service, has gone on a retreat to Tibet to get his mojo back. Opening scenes set pick’s slapstick tone. Unfortunately for the new MI-7 (what happened to MI-5 and MI-6 is a dangling participle), there is a plot against the life of the Chinese premier (Lobo Chan) who is scheduled to meet shortly with the English prime minister (Stephen Campbell Moore) in Switzerland for secret discussions about keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of rouge states in Southeast Asia. The only lead MI-7 has is former CIA man Fisher played by Richard Schiff, who gets killed in the second reel. The only British agent he will see is Johnny English. Accordingly English is grudgingly recalled to duty (he had been booted after spectacularly screwing up an assignment in Mozambique) and sent on a mission to Macau with sidekick Tucker (Daniel Kaluuya) to glean what afflicts Fisher. Enter the Killer Cleaner played athletically by Pik Sen Lim, the first ethnic Chinese actress ever to appear on British television. A master of disguise, Killer Cleaner will appear again and again, often shooting the wrong guy just as English unwittingly ducks. There are three pieces of a key. The key unlocks a deadly and banished mind control drug, which enables one to control its victim for several minutes before death. That is how Vortex, the murder-for-hire group of three of which Fisher was a member, plans to do away with the Chinese premier. After botching his first assignment by losing Fisher’s piece of the key, English is sent to foil Vortex’s plot.
Pic is a showcase for Atkinson’s bumbling brand of comedy. He’s the puffed up, egocentric, often-wrong-but-never-in-doubt (think of TV’s Bill O’Reilly as a secret agent), and bumbling side of James Bond. If he succeeds, it is sheer luck. On the way, there are more sight gags than one can count. In that regard, “Johnny English Reborn” is very much in the tradition of the famous “Carry On” series of films.
Gillian Anderson does a workmanlike job as Pegasus, the new, politically correct head of MI-7. Rosamund Pike shines as MI-7’s behavioral analyst and unlikely love interest for English. Dominic West is both charming and menacing as Ambrose, the Aston-Martin driving MI-7 agent secretly turned traitor, and his scenes with Atkinson are almost worth the ticket price. Daniel Kaluuya convincingly plays comedy with a straight face. And kudos go to the special effects department for keeping things low key yet funny — especially with a motorized wheelchair and a talking Rolls Royce. Tech credits are more than up to par in this 101 minute, PG rated pic. Kids will love it. Even adults will laugh out loud every two minutes or so. Atkinson’s brand of physical comedy is a wonderful antidote to a crummy economy.