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Diapers Are Forever

MOVIE REVIEW
Johnny English Reborn (2011)

Johnny-english-reborn-rowan-atkinson-williams-belle
Giles Keyte/Universal Pictures

Rowan Atkinson is synonymous with Mr. Bean, which could mean either that he has taken the character to an art form or that he is a one-trick pony. “Johnny English Reborn” would suggest the latter. Although Mr. Atkinson might in fact be capable of much more, makers of this film seem intent on preserving the winning “Mr. Bean” formula — which also means not alienating the “Mr. Bean” audience. There are only so many moves you can bust comedy-wise to the inoffensive, family-friendly, PG-rated tune, and “Johnny English Reborn” just about exhausts the entire repertoire. Yes, there’s a poop joke in the form of a soiled diaper.

Since we last saw him cavorting with Natalie Imbruglia (just so you’ve an idea how long it’s really been), Mr. Atkinson’s clumsy secret agent has fallen from grace while working a security detail for the president of Mozambique. But after years of exile in a Tibetan monastery, English is recalled by the MI7 to avert the assassination of the Chinese premier. First stop on his mission is Hong Kong — evidently British comedians still can’t pass up an opportunity to break out their Hong Kong material, and the handover some 14 years ago isn’t going to stop them.

While Austin Powers was loaded with sleazy innuendos of the 1960s spy genre, Johnny English is at a disadvantage for having to make do with the equivalent of soft pellets for comic ammunition. There is very little one could object to — not even the film’s depiction of Chinese villains. It’s banal to the point that kids at the film’s New York press screening were apparently bored out of their minds. Many of them yammered throughout, while one with a seemingly bad case of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder wouldn’t stop body-slamming his chair. For grown-ups, it’s mindless fun for the most part until the climax, during which English dances to Cameo’s “Word Up” — a page recycled straight from Mr. Bean’s playbook. That’s when you realize Mr. Atkinson’s whole schtick is kind of played out by now.

JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN

Opens on Oct. 7 in Britain and on Oct. 21 in the United States.

Directed by Oliver Parker; written by Hamish McColl, based on a story by William Davies; director of photography, Danny Cohen; edited by Guy Bensley; music by Ilan Eshkeri; production design by Jim Clay; costumes by Beatrix Pasztor; produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Chris Clark; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 42 minutes. This film is rated PG.

WITH: Rowan Atkinson (Johnny English), Gillian Anderson (Pamela Thornton), Dominic West (Simon Ambrose), Rosamund Pike (Kate Sumner), Daniel Kaluuya (Agent Tucker), Richard Schiff (Fisher) and Lim Pik-sen (Killer Cleaner).

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