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When the British Secret Service loses all its secret agents in a bomb attack at the funeral of Agent One, the top brass have only one man to turn to to save the world: Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson), a low level desk jockey inside the service who has fantasised about being an agent like One. The world needs saving because there seems to be a maniac plotting something sinister – which turns out to be a French billionaire maniac Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich) plotting to force the Queen’s abdication so he can take his rightful place as King of England, and then turn the place into the world’s biggest prison (prisons are his business). It’s up to Johnny and a truly secret secret agent (Natalie Imbruglia) to unmask Sauvage for the master crim he is, and save England (and hence the world).

Review by Louise Keller:
A smidgeon of Bean shaken and stirred, with a soupçon of I Spy British-style, add a verree Frrensch villain à la John Malkovich, plus a cool-headed shapely brunette Natalie Imbruglia-style, and you get Johnny English, the English walking disaster. If there’s a right way to do it, it’s probably in another film, because although this unfortunate secret service agent authoritatively tells us that the word ‘mistake’ may not appear in his dictionary, we delight in his every mistake. And of course, there are many. He drops his gun, catches the wrong culprit, mixes up truth serum with muscle relaxant, misuses the gadgets, breaks into the wrong building and basically makes a total ass of himself. There’s even a scene in which he tap dances on a coffin awaiting burial before the grieving widow, when he mistakenly believes the coffin to be the hiding place of the stolen goods. 

My favourite wacky moment comes when English (accurately, for once) aims for a speed camera that has surreptitiously taken his photo in a car chase segment. The fact that the car he is in happens to be suspended high in the air is another matter. The humour is slapstick and many of the laughs come from Atkinson’s wonderfully straight face and dead pan delivery. English takes himself so seriously, and the royal theme allows for some extravagant visuals including the Queen’s horse-driven coronation carriage, the Crown Jewels, crowds waving Union Jacks, plus a gag opportunity with one of the royal corgis. Everyone plays it straight, and with the characters so firmly established, even though the script is lacking, it still works on some levels. 

Malkovich overcooks his villain, but with an entertaining (and pretty hammy) French accent, while Imbruglia makes a fetching English girl (doesn’t sound quite as good as a Bond girl, does it?) and shows us a few sides of her (considerable) talents. Believe it or not, this zero does become a hero, and while Johnny English could have been an absolute blast, it nonetheless is a fun rocket ride of insanity.

Thank goodness some inventiveness has been put into the special features. The Observation Test is a bit of fun – we are invited to view five clips and if we answer the questions correctly, we are given access to the secret deleted scenes, which are well worth watching! Of course, there is no way you will get through the first time, but once you know what to look out for, you can breeze through. (Hint: Look for numbers…) My favourite deleted scene shows English stopping an official car which is driven by Bough, who says ‘This is the foreign secretary’s car.’ ‘Puhlease,’ says English: ‘The foreign secretary is a plump 52 year old woman with a bristle of facial hair on her upper lip, an unfortunate glandular condition which causes her to sweat excessively and one breast noticeably lower than the other. You sir, are not the foreign secretary.’ The camera then reveals the real foreign secretary sitting in the back seat; English quips: ‘Goodday – may I say on what an incredibly even keel your breasts are looking this morning.’

The Characteristics feature is interesting – you can find out useless information like the bubble jet technology of English’s pen, and the Making Of Feature is excellent, giving not only a good insight into the shoot, but also the serious side of comedy.

Published September 4, 2003

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CAST: Rowan Atkinson, John Malkovich, Natalie Imbruglia, Ben Miller, Douglas McFerran, Tim Pigott-Smith, Kevin McNally, Radha Mitchell

DIRECTOR: Peter Howitt

SCRIPT: William Davies, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen; Audio 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: The Making of Johnny English; Observation Test; Character Statistics; DVD rom features;


DVD RELEASE: (retail) September 3, 2003

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