2 / 5 stars
A sequel to 2003’s successful, although largely uninspired Johnny English, Johnny English: Reborn has a title that suggests a significantly greater departure from the first installment of the spoof-spy series than is delivered. Rowan Atkinson stars as the eponymous hero, whose bumbling approach to the secret agent game appears to have finally caught up with him at the beginning of Reborn, as he is exiled to a Tibetan monastery. However, a series of circumstances conspire not only to bring English back into the fold, but also to place him at the forefront of a global conspiracy to assassinate the Chinese Premier. If you’ve seen the original, it’s not difficult to imagine how the film goes from there. For the uninitiated, it’s essentially 100 minutes of James Bond send-ups and sight gags.
For a film starring Atkinson, best known to audiences as Black Adder or Mr. Bean, and bearing the word English in its title, it would be fair to expect a good deal of quintessentially British humour. However, as with the first English, the film spends too long aiming too low in an attempt to reach a wider audience.
Slapstick is a tried and tested formula, and given Atkinson’s undeniable talent, it’s not difficult to see why writers William Davies (How To Train Your Dragon) and Hamish McColl (Mr. Bean’s Holiday, by the way) focused on that comic device. However, after over an hour-and-a-half, the effectiveness of seeing someone being repeatedly kicked in the testicles takes a marked downturn.
However, the overuse of physical comedy could be forgiven if the rest of the film provided a more solid base for it. Unfortunately it doesn’t. There’s a conspicuous lack of attention-to-detail throughout — particularly in the fight scenes, where felled villains seem to simply disappear — and the plot is incredibly transparent. Whilst nobody will be expecting a Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy level of complexity, there’s not one part of Reborn that will leave anyone doubting what will happen next.
There are also various problems sequels are often dogged by. English’s near pathological avoidance of swearing, whilst relatively funny and endearing on his first outing, falls flat here, particularly as it repeatedly crops up in situations where even the ice-cool James Bond would probably be cursing like a sailor.
Whilst many of the jokes (both physical and spoken) can be seen coming from a mile off, there are a few undoubted sparks of brilliance present which help mask those moments that don’t work, and lift the overall quality of the film. Reborn may have struggled with the loss of Ben Miller as Bough, English’s long suffering sidekick, but Daniel Kaluuya makes a more-than-adequate foil as his incompetent accomplice. It may be the case that Johnny English: Reborn is, like its hapless protagonist, more miss than hit. But that’s not to say it’s not worth a watch, even if it’s just for the few jokes that successfully shoot to kill.
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