As ticklish as one might find the idea of an equivalent Mr. Bean character occupying the driver’s seat of a James Bond parody, it’s likely that even a competent manifestation of such a scenario would pale in comparison to what Mike Myers and Jay Roach pulled off with apparent ease in their Austin Powers films. On that totem pole, Johnny English Reborn, a needless sequel to a 2003 film that few saw or liked in the first place, rests near the bottom. Rowan Atkinson’s endearingly oblivious comedy antics have always been more geared toward children and those young at heart, and in its best moments, this slipshod spoof brings to mind the quixotic clashing of high- and low-brow culture as seen on The Simpsons, with a particular nod to Hans Moleman’s contribution to a local film festival, Man Getting Hit By Football.
Despite many groins being pelted throughout, however, Johnny English Reborn barely functions on the lone level of juvenile absurdity. Suggesting a long, pathetic decline from the circumstantial (and existential) struggles of Buster Keaton’s stone face, Atkinson’s buffoonish British spy finds himself embroiled in one overly calculated comedy of errors to the next, his behavior guided less by his innately dimwitted qualities than they are by a script that trades in stupidity of the most contrived sort. Hoping to retrieve the three parts needed to assemble a very important key coveted by a rogue organization, English’s inept espionage skills include beating elderly women senseless, nearly killing his cohorts with the latest weapons technology, and repeatedly seeing events as exactly the opposite of what they are. A handful of moments, such as an impromptu Mexican standoff in a men’s room, are worth a chuckle, but for the better part of the 101-minute running time, my inner child was screaming for mercy.
Still, even mediocrity such as this at least stems from a recognizably human source (the desire to laugh, and the deprecation of the self), making this film’s antiseptic construction particularly irksome, as if the post-production team were intent on sucking dry whatever well of personality was there to begin with. Most generically offensive is Ilan Eshkeri’s musical score, barely distinguishable from the stuff he’s been churning out for the past decade and frequently so overwhelming that it hardly matters what’s actually on screen at the given moment. The creative blame goes round and round, from the poor staging and inert cinematography to a general cluelessness about the components of the genre being lampooned. The demonized exoticism of a Chinese assassin (Pik-Sen Lim) isn’t actively xenophobic, but it is as actively lame as the film containing it. Best, then, to focus on the expert paycheck-collecting phone-in by Gillian Anderson as Pegasus, the “M” to English’s Bond. Among the cast, she’s the one who retains the most dignity, and there’s a certain delight to be had in how she barely masks her contempt. You go, girl.