ninth symphony films - movie reviews


DIRECTOR  -  peter howitt

RATED  -  pg

GENRE  -  comedy

LENGTH  -  88 minutes

RELEASED  -  18 july 2003

DISTRIBUTOR  -  universal pictures

OFFICIAL SITE  -  johnny english

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $45,000,000
johnny english - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from johnny english at

buy the dvd from johnny english at

rowan plays the eponymous lead character in a spoof spy thriller.

the title character first appeared in a series of television commercials for barclaycard with his assistant, bough.


picture from johnny english

picture from johnny english

picture from johnny english


two out of four possible stars

Having already been a successful theatrical release in non-US territories, the marketing folks seem to have made that fact a large part of their marketing campaign in the United States. But if a film has been successful world-wide, should it follow that it will have a profitable run in the States? With a film like Johnny English, which has its share of mediocre comedic moments, it's a mystery as to whether American audiences will take this movie to the bank. As one of the most predictable films in recent memory, it seems all the weight of making this film entertaining is on the shoulders of title star, Rowan Atkinson.

And because Atkinson has a rather good amount of comedic ability in front of the camera, the film tends to be slightly funny more often than not. Although there are no scenes that are truly memorable, as an innocent and mirthful distraction, Johnny English fits the bill. It is because of Atkinson's likeable portrayal as a bumbling British secret agent that this film has some appeal. Nobody in the film is really nasty (though John Malkovich's French accent leaves something to be desired...) so it's more of a light entertainment than anything else.

It might be difficult for some viewers to keep from rolling their eyes when the plot proceeds exactly as they would have surmised it would, but in light of what Atkinson and his co-workers were attempting, it seems petty to complain about the plot. Especially since the producers of this film probably weren't aiming to get a crowd of Nobel Prize winners in the audience. But what might have snared a larger audience would have been a more acute attention paid to the creativity of the script. By relying completely on Atkinson's comedic abilities, the producers have taken quite a chance. Although Atkinson is sometimes hilarious in this film, a better conceived plot might have allowed him more breathing room.

But as it is, the audience has to rely entirely on what Atkinson does with physical comedy to make the audience laugh, since it's so incredibly apparent what's going to happen next in the plot. And particularly since John Malkovich is so incredibly annoying as a Frenchman. Whoever instructed him on the ins and outs of French accented English should be shot. Twice. Malkovich is known for putting a weird slant on his characters and their accents in any case (he tends to put some British into even his American characters), but he's not at all believable as somebody who grew up speaking French. He does the English thing very well, but his French persona is not as polished.

And as his performance is so intimately tied to the way he speaks, it's better to focus on other actors for one's theatrical enjoyment. Ben Miller, playing Atkinson's straight-faced sidekick, "Bough," makes his character more enjoyable than the standard "necessary side-kick" type that these movies seem to always employ. Miller is actually a valuable member of the cast since his character is one of the only grounded members of the cast. A veteran of small screen soap operas, Natalie Imbruglia makes her character believable as well, though her romance with Johnny English's character is not always the best route for the story to take (it strains credibility).

What Johnny English suffers from the most is a lack of true creativity in story and a complete reliance on one actor to carry the entire weight of the film. Though all of the actors (excepting John Malkovich's truly strange performance) perform in their roles competently, this film is a rather good example of how a production can suffer because of a lack of attention paid to the script. A lot of Atkinson's humor is of the physical kind, like falling off tables and bumping into things, and making strange faces. And crawling up porta-potty chutes. Quite a high-point in Atkinson's career, surely.

And the dialogue is laughable in many spots, but not because it's funny. It's not the type of dialogue that one would wince at upon hearing, but it's best not to pay too much attention to what the characters are actually saying. What saves this movie in the end from becoming a rather forgettable comedy is Atkinson's earnest portrayal of the bumbling spy. Although his mannerisms bear striking resemblances to his "Bean" character, his performance as "Johnny English" is a mild and amusing diversion.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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