If you’re going to spoof a spy, you might as well call in Mr. Bean. Rowan Atkinson, the British comedian with a face as elastic as Jim Carrey’s and a nose as prominent as Cyrano de Bergerac’s, is known to most Americans as the man-child star of 1997’s “Bean.” Atkinson is no James Bond - and that’s just the point in the madcap spy comedy “Johnny English.”
Think “Dumb and Dumber” for the international spy set.
The movie is silly, silly, silly - and proud of it. There’s a good chance you will be giggling helplessly at some point in “Johnny English,” and seven to 14-year-olds will be giddy throughout.
But the very predictability of Atkinson’s character, a 007 wannabe with a touch of lead who screws up every assignment, is both the movie’s strength and its downfall.
Atkinson’s comedic style — a long slow setup to the inevitable punch line — lets the audience see what’s going to happen a mile away. That can make 87 minutes seem a whole lot longer than it should be.
On the other hand, in small doses, the character of Johnny English is sidesplitting. Mowing down innocent secretaries while playing with a pen gun, chasing the bad guys with a car attached to a tow truck, getting his tie stuck in a rotating sushi bar, Atkinson is the perfect hyperkinetic anti-Bond.
“He might be a fool, but he’s a fool who keeps showing up,” muses John Malkovich, who spoofs his own super-intellectual persona by playing “ze zany Franch villain” - evil magnate Pascal Sauvage - with an accent so thick (zzzick) you will zzzink he is the funniest zzzing on the planet.
Between Atkinson and Malkovich, over-the-top has a new definition.
Plot isn't key
“Johnny English” is already a box office success overseas, earning over $100 million in its first 40 days. The movie is based on a series of popular commercials that Atkinson did for a credit card company.
Peter Howitt - best known for directing “Sliding Doors” with Gwyneth Paltrow - went right to the guys who know spies, using an original screenplay by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade - who together also wrote the Bond flicks “The World Is Not Enough” and “Die Another Day” - and polished by writer William Davies.
Singer Natalie Imbruglia takes time off from rock to play the straight man - or shall we say Bond woman? - to Atkinson’s goofy gunslinger. Comedian Ben Miller appears as the loyal sidekick who fixes Johnny English’s ghastly mistakes.
Oh, the plot! How could we forget? Although this is not a movie in which plot forms any key element.
An unfortunate accident wipes out the British Secret Service, leaving office maven Johnny English as the only man still standing. Needless to day, the Crown Jewels are gone within minutes. Who wants the gaudy rocks the most? Perhaps a disgruntled French billionaire whose family got shoved aside in the royal succession in what, 1066?
These old-world types, they know grudges.
In the climactic scene, an unfortunate mixup in computer disks leaves Johnny English singing ABBA songs in his underwear in front of say, all of Britain.
Tom Cruise, you got competition.