Despite lukewarm reviews and a humdrum U.S. response, 2003's spy spoof "Johnny English" netted $160 million worldwide, which was enough to convince Rowan Atkinson and company to try, try again -- and succeed they did.
"Johnny English Reborn" is a rare sequel that's actually better than its predecessor.
Way, way better.
In the film image released by Universal Pictures above, Rowan Atkinson is shown in a scene from “Johnny English Reborn.” Below, Atkinson, left, and Rosamund Pike are shown in another scene.
Though the writing is occasionally weak, "JER" is hilarious; I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard in a theater.
Atkinson - best known as TV's Mr. Bean - plays a moronic British spy who thinks he's James Bond but who's actually about as capable of solving a case as Curly, Larry and Moe.
Having been banished from the secret service after a disastrous mission in Mozambique, English is called out of exile to investigate the planned assassination of the Chinese premier.
Stunningly incompetent but always cool and self-assured, English fumbles and flails his way through a mission pockmarked by uproarious slapstick, silliness and stupidity.
As with the classic Pink Panther films starring Peter Sellers - which this film recalls -much of the comedy here depends on our hero's unflappable response to the chaos he constantly causes.
Atkinson is an extraordinarily gifted comedian, and his deadpan facial expressions are a riot. Yet "Reborn" also allows plenty of room for the physical gyrations that make the Bean TV shows so gut-achingly funny.
In a similar fashion, the film's fine comedy is balanced by some truly exciting scenes and an inexplicable desire to see this bumbling boob bring down the bad guys.
It would take a wiser man than I to explain English's appeal - though both of the Mr. Bean feature films also play on this baffling aspect of Atkinson's persona.
Suffice it to say that the final fight scene here, like many that precede it, boasts a seamless and rare blend of hilarity and suspense; and the inevitable success of English's mission (believe me, I'm not giving anything away) makes this both a laugh-out-loud comedy and a feel-good adventure film.
Director Oliver Parker - who cut his teeth on Shakespeare ("Othello") and Oscar Wilde ("Importance of Being Earnest," "Dorian Gray") - proves surprisingly adept at this style of humor, and Atkinson gets first-rate support from Rosamund Pike as a behavioral psychologist, Dominic West as a crooked agent and Daniel Kaluuya as English's idealistic assistant.
The movie also has a dandy outtake in the closing credits.
And finally, let's note what a nice contrast "JER" makes to the many recent R-rated comedies laced with foul language, crude sexuality and gross-out humor.
It's a relief to know that filmdom can still produce a PG-rated comedy that is genuinely and consistently funny.
It's a film you can feel good about feeling good about.