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Johnny English

Johnny English

Rowan Atkinson does 007 by way of his Mr. Bean in Johnny English, a clownish summer caper picture aimed at family audiences.

The comedic performer provides his version of the likes of Lt. Frank Drebin from The Naked Gun or Peter Sellers' memorable Inspector Clouseau in a stringing of slapstick to feature length.  The title character was developed from the commercials on British TV for the Barclay credit card.

The script by the writers who penned the last two bond flicks, plays it safe and silly with gags that show a smidgen of Atkinson's popularity outside of Britain from his BBC series work on "Mr. Bean" and "The Black Adder."  This production has the idea that it's a funnier spy spoof than it is given the contortions and physicality that Atkinson brings to the table.

Unlike "Bean," Johnny English remains in her Majesty's territory with the lowly operative (M17) the last in the secret service after a bombing during a funeral which resulted from his inferior handling of security.  When the coveted Crown Jewels are stolen, English is assigned the task of recovering them.

His instincts lead him to suspect a business tycoon from France, Pascal Sauvage, an unctuous John Malkovich speaking in an accent that seems like an anti-French joke.  And Johnny has a long-suffering assistant, Bough (sounds like Boff), anxiously rendered by Ben Miller, and sexy Interpol agent Lorma Campbell (Australian singer Natalie Imbruglia), that can help him shine.

But, a blunder by Johnny in mistaking a hospital as a base of operations of Sauvage leads to a suspension, though the shapely double agent knows English is the only one who can thwart his megalomaniacal plan of being crowned king at Westminister Abbey.

Director Peter Howitt (Sliding Doors) doesn't really elevate lightweight, material, but cheerfully harnesses Atkinson's enthusiasm into a spy with his own special damage control.  The bemusement will gratify some in scenes concerning a cemetery, a sushi restaurant, and, especially where the wrong person gets a dose of truth serum.

The climax smugly features the Archbishop in a way that the "Austin Powers" films might have done with more satirical creativity.  This one appears satisfied with ineptitude smoothly crossing from product placement to sensationalism.

Johnny English

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