Rowan Atkinson star as Johnny English in "Johnny English Reborn."
Time is not on the side of Johnny English Reborn, the mildly funny sequel to the so-so 2003 Rowan Atkinson spy spoof which stiffed in North America but scared up decent box office overseas.
Yes, 2003. In those eight years, the James Bond franchise has fallen into limbo, leaving nothing current for Atkinson to spoof.
Bad timing further afflicts this movie, coming as it does at the end of an entire decade of lame genre spoofs like Meet The Spartans that made the era of The Naked Gun and Hot Shots: Part Deux! look like a golden age. Making a James Bond spoof in a spoofed-out 2011 is kind of like betting on the future of the Blackberry.
So when a confused Johnny knocks the Queen to the ground and begins pummeling her, any urge to laugh is overcome by the knowledge that we've seen this gag done better before, in a Naked Gun movie for starters.
The level of humour is set as Johnny English Reborn opens in a Tibetan temple where martial artists (including exiled "MI7" agent English) are trained to unflinchingly endure abuse to their genitals -- definitely a portent of things to come.
Unfortunately, that's as clever as it gets. Atkinson's best moments are ones where the inept Agent English channels Mr. Bean, by, for instance, putting his pants on backward in the dark. Both Atkinson characters have busy hands that inevitably cause chaos. So, left literally to his own devices, you know English will fiddle with his Bondian gizmos and shoot somebody by accident with the camera-gun (wouldn't spies be using iPhone guns by now?) or over-adjust his riser-chair at a high-level meeting so it goes up and down and up and down while everyone's trying to be serious.
In fact, one "knows" pretty much everything that is going to happen in this movie. An impressively clever first-act Hong Kong parkour chase scene aside, Oliver Parker's direction doesn't so much propel the movie as push it from set piece to set piece, predictable gag to predictable gag (if you can never get enough of little old ladies beaten senseless, this is the movie for you).
Johnny English Reborn opens, as noted, with English in exile, humiliated over bungling the job of protecting the Mozambique president from assassination. However, for reasons unclear, he's been called back to perform similar protection for the president of China -- much to the chagrin of MI7 boss Pegasus (Gillian Anderson, adopting a pretty dodgy British accent) and the amusement of the arrogant Agent One (Dominic West).
His only defender (and love interest): MI7's top behavioural psychologist, played by former Bond girl Rosamund Pike. The chase to find the secret trio of assassins who've been offing world leaders takes the movie to some pretty places, and English gets to indulge in a little more fight action than the first film.
But other than being family-friendly, Johnny English Reborn has only a handful of chuckles to recommend it.