*. Maybe Rowan Atkinson’s brand of humour doesn’t translate well to the big screen. I think he’s a funny guy, but this movie, much like Bean (1997), didn’t make me laugh.
*. Was it just old? Heaven knows they’ve been sending up James Bond since about a week after Dr. No premiered in 1962. So this is awfully familiar ground. It’s about as far from an original premise as you can get.
*. Or maybe it’s too light. In addition to being a tired premise, Johnny English doesn’t have much of an edge. Most of the gags are conventional, playing off Atkinson mistakenly being in the wrong place (the funeral, the hospital) at the wrong time. There’s nothing shocking or clever going on, and indeed most of it is strained and obvious. The chase with the Aston Martin suspended in a sling, for example, or Johnny climbing up to the castle through the poop chute.
*. I suppose I could be accused of being a grump here, but Atkinson himself apparently didn’t think much of the film, calling it “five good jokes and a lot of longueurs.” That’s more good jokes than I counted, but maybe I wasn’t as bored by the longueurs.
*. What might have saved it was a good turn by John Malkovich as the villainous Pascal Sauvage. Sometimes a dramatic actor strikes comic gold when they get to ham it up in a comic role. Think George C. Scott in Dr. Strangelove or Jack Palance in City Slickers. But that doesn’t happen here. Despite being fluent in French, Malkovich makes a very unconvincing Frenchman and I didn’t enjoy him at all. And even though you expect a scheme for world domination to be ridiculous, his actually has about three different parts to it, none of which make any sense.
*. Nevertheless it did well enough to spawn a couple of well-spaced out sequels: Johnny English Reborn (2011) and Johnny English Strikes Again (2018). Proof, if any more were needed, that you can’t go to this particular well too often.