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Oh, how the mighty have fallen. What could have been a family-friendly, action-packed adventure with a surprisingly star-studded cast falls short in Johnny English Reborn, yet another lackluster comedy to add to Rowan Atkinson’s growing list of similarly unimpressive feature films.

Credits roll in a Bondian fashion, although they’re actually more similar to a low-budget Speed Racer film. The story follows Johnny English, a shamed ex-MI7 agent, who has been banished to the mountains of Tibet to train and develop his weak mind. However, a plot to assassinate the Chinese Premier calls for English to rejoin MI7 for his one last shot at redemption. Five years apart from civilization, English returns to find that “guns, fast cars and chauvinism are on their way out,” as relayed to him by Pamela, head of MI7 and played by Gillian Anderson. One can’t help but recognize her from “The X-Files” and also wonder why on earth she happens to have a major role in this film. English’s discoveries of new high-tech gadgets, such as voice-changing candies that bring out his feminine “ladies over tea” accent, obviously cater to a young audience.

 

As English travels around the world trying to pin down the three people that make up Vortex, the group of assassins scheming to kill the Premier, he discovers that an elderly Chinese woman disguised as a cleaning lady is actually the head assassin tailing him.

 

The plot thickens — or, in this case, takes a confusing turn — when it turns out that Vortex is after a chemical compound with mind-controlling properties and is planning to use this compound to force an innocent person to murder the Premier. The only person who can help English is a psychologist working for MI7 — the “Bond girl” of the movie — played by Rosamund Pike, who, ironically, starred alongside Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day.  Recognizable from roles in such movies as An Education, one wonders what she is doing here as the romantic interest of the oafish Johnny English.

Sadly, the film’s surprise plot twist comes as no surprise at all. The painfully obvious turn of events only makes the storyline all the more complicated. In the film’s climax, English chases the leader of Vortex to his lair at the top of a snowy mountain in Switzerland accompanied by a junior agent, whose charming character (portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya) is perhaps the only redeeming quality of the film.

 

Atkinson faces death more than once, slipping in lines like “Dear God, I’m going to die at the hands of the Swiss,” which obviously won’t be understood by the children that make up the film’s target demographic and won’t really be laughed at by the parents taking said kiddies to the movies. In trying to gather more evidence, English takes the time to play golf with a potential suspect and, in doing so, references Adam Sandler’s booty shake on the green from Happy Gilmore. While watching this scene, all I could think is that both Sandler and Atkinson need to retire from making the same, increasingly unwatchable films.

 

As a lover of British films, I am sad about the outcome of this one in particular. With a surprise performance by Atkinson’s “Blackadder” co-star Tim McInnerny and Dominic West, I realize the film had potential. But in the theater,s I was constantly confused as to whether I should be surrounded by elementary school kids or middle-aged Brits who enjoyed Atkinson’s past roles that were fresher and less cliche. Despite having had a once-promising career in the states, Atkinson’s performance is less than impressive, which is no doubt a disappointment not only for young audiences but also for those of us who enjoyed Mr. Bean in our childhoods.

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