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Johnny English Reborn (Blu-ray Review)

24 Feb, 2012 By: John Latchem

Street 2/28/12
Box Office $8.31 million
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG’ for mild action violence, rude humor, some language and brief sensuality.
Stars Rowan Atkinson, Gillian Anderson, Dominic West, Rosamund Pike, Richard Schiff.

The spy spoof is as enduring a genre as the “James Bond” films that often serves as its primary source of inspiration. Often, these parodies have franchises in their own right. From Derek Flint and Matt Helm in the 1960s, to Austin Powers in the 1990s, the key to these films is often a hero who believes he can do anything Bond does, but more often than not ends up succeeding in spite of himself. A more recent example has been the French “OSS 117” films directed by Michel Hazanavicius and starring Jean Dujardin, the creative team behind current awards-season darling The Artist.

It was perhaps an inevitability that legendary British comedian Rowan Atkinson would join the party, which he did in 2003’s Johnny English as the eponymous secret agent who manages to get all his colleagues killed, leaving him as England’s last line of defense against a French industrialist’s attempts to seize the British crown and turn the island into a prison.

The 2011 follow-up finds English in exile after a botched mission, but called back into service by a plot to disrupt diplomatic relations between Britain and China, involving a conspiracy that ties into his past. Reborn delivers laughs at about the same pace as the original, but the degree to which the jokes land depends on what viewers expect from their spy humor.

Unlike most spoofs that create a whole wacky world for the characters to play off, the basic formula of the “Johnny English” films has been to take a conventional spy thriller and drop Atkinson in the middle of it, and seeing him at work is the primary joy of these films. He’s basically playing a secret agent version of his “Blackadder” character: suave, debonair and a bit of a bumbling fool. Reborn delivers laughs at about the same pace as the original.

The sequel is not as cartoonish as the original film proved to be, with high production values to give it more credibility in a “Bourne” world and much less emphasis on English’s potential for buffoonery. Experience has made him much more of a polished agent, though his absence from fieldwork has made him prone to missteps due to his arrogance and aloofness.

Another key difference from the first film involves the nature of the action. While the original was more interested in lampooning spy-movie conventions such as gadgets and car chases, Reborn includes several direct spoofs of famous Bond movie scenes, such as the freerunning sequence from Casino Royale (the 2006 one, not the 1967 spoof version), the golf match from Goldfinger, and a mountain tramway sequence akin to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or Moonraker.

This doesn’t preclude some ingenious comic setpieces, as when English commandeers a helicopter, but having no idea where he is decides to fly 10 feet about the ground and follow the highway signs (every bit as clever as the sequence in the first film in which English commandeers the tow truck that has hitched his gadget-filled supercar).

Atkinson actually appeared in a Bond movie — as a bumbling intelligence courier in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, which isn’t part of the EON canon but is close enough. His love interest in Reborn is played by Rosamund Pike, who joined the ranks of the Bond Girl in 2002’s Die Another Day, opposite Pierce Brosnan.

Given that the Reborn made a significant profit at the worldwide box office I wouldn’t be surprised if a third film popped up down the line.

Extras on the Blu-ray are rather comprehensive, starting with 40 minutes of deleted scenes that contain cameos by characters from the first film. There’s also a gag reel, a solid commentary from the director and writer, and an extensive library of making-of featurettes.

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