Jade's Trick

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Location: Hartford, Connecticut, United States

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Sunday, July 10, 2005

"Things involving plastic toys and soft cheese?" -- Johnny English

I have nothing to say except that I'd better find a movie to rip on sometime soon.

Johnny English is one of the better examples of James Bond parody. Although the protagonist is a screw-up, he's not so much of a screw-up that it's inconceivable that he could get the job he has. This movie knows, for the most part, when to stop, and is, above all, really rather quite funny, wouldn't you say dear boy?

Johnny is an employee in the British Secret Service; although he would like to think of himself as a low-level agent, his duties more closely resemble those of a file clerk than anything else. That is, until Agent One ("the greatest secret agent England ever had") dies during a mission, apparently from an acute case of drowning, and all the other agents are killed when a bomb planted inside Agent One's coffin explodes. With no one else to turn to, at least for the moment, and important events happening, Johnny shoots up the ranks to full agent status and starts taking on missions.

Johnny English's strength lies not so much in it's absurdity as in it it's more mundane aspects. Yes, it is very absurd, and yes, that absurdity is the catalyst for most of the laughter, but the thing that sets this movie apart from other Spy Spoofs is that it rarely, if ever, passes out of reality. Although the story and the characters are admittedly odd, they are, for the most part, plausible. Rowan Atkinson, famous for his role as Mr. Bean, portrays a character with a fair degree of skill who's just clumsy and hair-brained enough to prevent him from moving higher up heretofor. Although he incessantly bumps into things with his head and can barely pass mustard as a charmer, he knows a thing or two about spy equipment and it's use and can drive his Aston Martin with great proficiency. Although the plot relies on a few iffy events (would the queen really step down just because someone threatened her dog?), they are nevertheless not as utterly impossible as, say, a time-traveling VW Beetle.

Comedically speaking, Johnny English lies somewhere between "pretty darn funny" and "very funny." Although it doesn't reach the summit, it still lands far above base camp. The movie is very fun to watch, with a laugh-out-loud every ten or so minutes and a few really really good ones over the course of the film, but some of the jokes fall flat and it's not as consistent with the funny as it could be.

Johnny himself is a rather interesting character. Although he plays the role of an underdog, he's got some negative points as well to complicate him up. Yes he's our hero and yes we want him to save the day and yes he's a very loyal servant of his country, but he's inappreciative of his extremely helpful and loyal assistant Bough, rather arrogant, and quite stupid from time to time ("The Bedouin Monks of the Al Maghreb mountains developed a system of sonic chanting. The sound of their chanting would bounce back off any obstacles, and using their highly tuned ears they could paint a mental picture of the path ahead." Which, of course, means that anyone can do it, right?). Unfortunately, few other characters are anywhere near as interesting as our hero. Lorna Campbell, the requisite spy babe, is predictable. Bough, the aforementioned assistant, is a rather good agent but takes Johnny's BS and abuse so good-naturedly and without even so much as a sigh or a roll of the eye to indicate that he realizes his boss' shortcomings that I got somewhat sick of him and by the end wanted to scream at him to, just once, talk back to Johnny. However, Pascal Sauvage, our villain (played by John Malkovich, surprisingly), evokes some interest despite being the perfect stereotype of both a Frenchman and an evil capitalist bad guy.

I particularly dislike the scene wherein Lorna basically throws herself at Johnny (who, of course, mucks it up) right before they infiltrate Sauvage's evil lair. This scene is exTREMEly poorly written, and since it's virtually all dialogue, there's little the actors can do to save it. Unrealistically awkward, Lorna says things that almost no one would ever even consider saying and made not only Johnny but even me very uncomfortable. Little of her speech is coherent, which only adds to the feeling of dread. Fortunately, it's a rather quick scene with nothing in the way of plot in it, so skipping over (a plan of attack that I highly suggest) it is not crippling.

And that's pretty much it. I'll mop up on comments during the ratings.

Action: 3.5/5 dead traffic cameras (Although it will win no awards for the action scenes, this flick actually does a decent job with its car chases, explosions, special effects, and whatnot).
Acting: 4/5 doses of paralytic compound (Rowan's portrayal of Johnny English is really what makes the movie work. It's really just a modification of his Mr. Bean act, but is nevertheless quite fun and funny).
Comedy: 3.75/5 ultimate acquired tastes (I went into greater detail above. Basically this movie's a funny one, but not as funny as it could be).
Story: 3.8/5 unlabeled DVD's (Mostly plausible and highly entertaining, the plot is pretty good all around. Docked slightly for those few elements which are just a tad too absurd).
Visuals: 3/5 triggerless barrettes (A big "meh" here from me).

Overall (not necessarily determined by the above categories): 3.5/5 Aston Martin's (If you're a fan of Spy Spoofs or Rowan Atkinson, you should definitely see this movie. If you're a fan of comedy in general and you're tired of rewatching Stripes, go ahead and rent this for a few laughs. If you're anyone else, this probably shouldn't be at the top of your list, but it's not a bad way to spend an hour-and-a-half).

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