Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Danger's My Mother's Maiden Name
Tonight's film, Rowan Atkinson in Johnny English: Reborn.
This segues nicely from our earlier discussion about James Bond knockoffs. You can't get more overt in your knockoff than Oliver Parker's installment in what feels like a franchise-in-the-making. The first film of the series, 2003's Johnny English (Peter Howitt) was evidently an exercise in combining faithful attention to the James Bond franchise with Rowan Atkinson's bumbling, comedic persona. I did not see that film, but this one certainly hits its marks.
Apparently, Johnny English's last assignment did not end well. The present film begins with our hero in exile at a religious monastery in Tibet where he is doing penance for allowing the president of Mozambique to be assassinated while he was heading the security detail. The exact nature of his penance is best left to the film to illustrate. When British Intelligence gets a tip that there is a plot to assassinate the Premier of China, Johnny English is recalled from exile. This is not quite the rehabilitation he desires, as it turns out that the terrorists have stipulated that they will only talk to English.
What follows is just what you'd expect: a globe-trotting adventure of good-against-evil with a huge dollop of buffoonery. Every detail of the Bond franchise is represented here: the obsession with gadgetry (with the crotchety Q-like character), the cheesy toss-offs, the haughty Section Chief, the saucy female love interest, the heroic music. But everything is turned up a notch or three from the already absurd to the patently ridiculous. And it's good fun. There's not a shred of anything new in the formula, but hey, there wasn't anything new in, like, 20 of the 24 Bond films either. And it's is a formula that Atkinson knows how to use. His deadpan delivery and wiry frame and rubbery face are put to continuous good use here with a constant barrage of verbal howlers and sight gags. There's a bit with a malfunctioning office chair that had the theater in stitches.
Newcomer Daniel Kanuuya plays Agent Tucker, the agency's greenest recruit and Johnny English's assigned partner. Dominic West plays the good guy / bad guy, and Rosamund Pike the love interest (she was a Bond Girl some years back). The section chief role is played, rather unexpectedly, by Gillian Anderson--who manages to be a passable Brit.
But Atkinson is, of course, the reason to see the movie. If you like his schtick you'll love the film, and you might just love it anyway. A happy way to spend a couple hours on a rainy afternoon.
OH! And PS: I meant to talk about the Hong Kong movie experience! For instance, I paid $75 for a ticket (don't panic; that's about $10 US, but $75 for the film and another $58 for popcorn and a soda seems very... Blade Runner). And the seating is assigned! First time I've seen that in a modern movie theater. You look at an iPad-like flat screen showing a schematic of the theater with available seats highlighted. "How about G-4?" I asked. "G-4" she responded. And they're all very cushy leather seats to boot! And then there was my order of a small popcorn. "Salty or sweet?" the concession girl asked. Turns out 'sweet' is very nearly carmel corn, but with a sweeter, lighter syrup. I've never seen the option, though I have to think there are places in the US where you can get carmel corn for your movie. The snack bar was uncharacteristically small, and there were three times as many attendants helping you get to and from your seat. Much more labor intensive than we're used to; very Chinese.