Starts surprisingly well but runs out of steam too soon
For the first half hour or so Johnny English Reborn is a surprisingly funny spy spoof that's a huge improvement on the dire first big screen outing for Rowan Atkinson's hopeless yet supremely self-confident spy who was originally dreamt up for a series of credit card adverts and seemed ill-suited for anything longer than 30 seconds. Where that misfired more than it hit, the sequel begins rather well as the now disgraced spy is called out of his retreat in a Tibetan monastery (where he's learning, among other things, the martial art of dragging boulders with his testicles) by a reluctant MI7 to uncover an assassination plot aimed at the Chinese premier.
Some of the jokes are out of date - his sparring with Gillian Anderson's unimpressed spymaster, all impeccable but monotonous pronunciation, is like a flat rewrite of Judi Dench's scenes in GoldenEye that's 16 years too late - but there's plenty that does raise a smile or the odd laugh, not least a particularly well-executed parkour chase scene across the rooftops and along the dockside of Hong Kong where the joke is that, despite obvious audience expectations, English's ineptitude constantly fails to materialise as he never puts a foot wrong and repeatedly outthinks a killer with a minimum of effort. But once the action leaves Hong Kong it obviously forgets to pack the jokes for the return trip and becomes a tired but watchable run-through of stale routines that weren't that funny when they were being done back in the 60s when people first started making mediocre Bond spoofs - the clumsy would-be knowing banter with a villain over a game of golf, the gadget filled chase scene (here in a motorised wheelchair), the assassination attempts by a ridiculous villain (here an elderly Chinese cleaning lady) survived through dumb luck rather than skill... you've seen it all before, and better done, and compared to the likes of OSS 117 - Cairo Nest Of Spies  [DVD] it seems stuck in the last century in the wrong way.
There are some compensations, with the biggest surprise how much better Rosamund Pike is here than in her genuine Bond film, Die Another Day, giving a much more natural and appealing performance in a role that's not much more than reaction shots and exposition before turning into the romantic interest just because that's part of the formula. It's a shame that she doesn't get more to do, but that could apply to most of the cast in a comedy that seems to have been made by a director who doesn't really want to do a comedy in a classic case of trying to turn the film he's been hired to make into the different kind of film he'd rather be making instead.
That problem is increasingly apparent from the deleted scenes on the Blu-ray and director Oliver Parker's rationale for cutting most of the funnier moments purely to keep the story moving while bizarrely leaving the now redundant and occasionally laborious moments setting them up in the final cut: in this kind of film the story is really nothing more than a near irrelevant coat rack to hang the jokes on, and it's the jokes that should take priority. As he rationalises his decisions as "small sacrifices worth making" to get to the next mundane plot point you can't help thinking he's the kind of director who'd cut the farting cowboys out of Blazing Saddles because it wasn't really moving the story forward. Not that there's much originality on display in them, but some - an extended walk-through the newly privatised MI7, English so preoccupied with trying out the gadgets in his car that he doesn't notice machine-gun firing killers are chasing him or a throwaway gag with some exploding chewing gum - are much better than what did make the final cut even if they did need a bit of tightening. The same could be said of the deleted scenes presentation as well since the disc doesn't offer the option to skip Parker's near-identical explanations for cutting the jokes out of a comedy.
Aside from a decent 25-minute making of and a not particularly funny gag reel the rest of the extras are the usual puff pieces on how Atkinson is the comic Messiah, though his perfectionism is absent from what makes it to the screen in the last two thirds of the movie. Like so many movies shot digitally rather than on film the 2.35:1 widescreen picture quality tends to vary from sharpness (usually in studio scenes and the Hong Kong section) to a rather soft, pallid, undetailed and lifeless look (most of the exteriors) but is acceptable. The triple play edition also includes a widescreen DVD with no extras.
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