Two Cranky Guys on ‘Johnny English Reborn’—Lost in Translation?
Bruce Fretts: The British are coming, the British are coming! Or at least Johnny English is. Rowan Atkinson’s not-so-sly spy returns in Johnny English Reborn, but no one in America cares: The film opened with less then $4 million at the U.S. box office, yet it’s a huge hit overseas and is expected to gross $200 million worldwide. The question is, Bret: Why don’t Yanks appreciate English humor?
Bret Watson: One word: slapstick. My bet is that this movie sells well around the globe because the physical shtick translates in any language. Can you remember even one witty bit of dialogue?
Bruce: I only chuckled a few times during the movie—which is a few more times than I heard you chuckle—and it was mostly at sight gags involving guys getting kicked in the crotch. What can I say? That always makes me laugh. Must be why I enjoy America’s Funniest Home Videos so much. But you’re a slapstick aficionado going back to the days of Buster Keaton—why were you silent during this movie?
Bret: The timing is slack and Atkinson’s deadpan is mostly just dead. I liked him a lot in the Blackadder TV series and was looking forward to seeing him, but he just seems to be mostly sleepwalking here.
Bruce: I’ve never seen Blackadder or much of Atkinson’s other previous work, so maybe my expectations were lower. But the concept—a parody of James Bond—isn’t exactly fresh. This felt to me like an even dumber version of Get Smart.
Bret: Hasn’t the spy-movie satire lemon been wrung completely dry? And then left out in the sun? And then placed in an oven set for 500 degrees and left to bake for a week? What I’m saying is, there’s no juice left in the spy parody. Hell, even Ian Fleming parodied bond when he wrote Casino Royale back in the Pleistocene Era. And yes, I thought Get Smart was just as witless and laugh-free.
Bruce: The movie or the TV series?
Bret: The Steve Carell movie. If you play it near funny people, it actually sucks all the funny out of them. It’s a humor dessicant.
Bruce: Would you believe I thought the movie only missed it by that much? Sorry about that, Chief! I even liked the dreaded Anne Hathaway as Agent 99. But I wish Johnny English Reborn had given its supporting cast more funny stuff to do. Not that Gillian Anderson and Dominic West, who play fellow MI-7 agents, are known as comics, but it seemed like Atkinson hogged all the gags for himself.
Bret: I was so bored that I may have left the theater during the supposedly funniest scene, in which Atkinson goes up and down in his chair during an important meeting. Sounds hilarious, right? But I needed popcorn to divert me and caffeine to keep me awake.
Bruce: That scene did send the theater into gales of hysterics—I’m not sure why. Maybe if the chair had caused a groin injury, I would’ve appreciated it more. Most of the funniest bits are in the trailer, but I thought they played better in the movie.
Bret: So I guess you haven’t seen the Mr. Bean movies.
Bruce: I’ve seen bits and pieces of them, which was more than enough for me. So I guess you could say I’ve Bean-dipped. How about you?
Bret: Nope. They seemed like they were aimed at kids.
Bruce: I was surprised that all the trailers that preceded Johnny English Reborn were for kids’ movies, but there didn’t seem to be many kids in the theater. Maybe that’s another reason why it flopped Stateside—they weren’t clear on who the audience should be. My kids would’ve enjoyed the sight gags, but I didn’t think to take them to see it because it didn’t seem like it was marketed as a family flick.
Bret: I have to wonder whether Atkinson looked at this script and said, “Yes, I must do this, it’s brilliant!” Or was he just looking for a nice paycheck? If the former, it makes me think that so much of being a successful comedy actor is lucking into good scripts at the start of your career. Think of all the comedians who are funny in their first movies and then just appear in lamer and lamer vehicles. Hello, Steve Martin!
Bruce: Maybe Martin’s latest flop The Big Year will be a huge hit overseas. Do foreigners enjoy birdwatching humor? Or maybe Atkinson is destined to become the British Jerry Lewis, unappreciated in America but worshipped in Europe.
Bret: Well, I think we’ve exhausted the interest of our readers in Johnny English. I know you’ve exhausted my interest in him. And in life.
Bruce: You’re blaming me for exhausting your interest in life? Reviewing this movie was your idea, buddy!
Bret: What’s wrong with me? I should have forced us to see Margin Call.
Bruce: A “thriller” about the 2008 financial crisis? There’s not enough caffeine in the world to keep me awake through that one. Maybe you need to meditate, like Johnny English and I do. Then you could become Bret Watson Reborn.
Bret: This movie killed me, so I need a rebirth.
Bruce: You’d probably just end up suffering from post-partum depression.
Bret: When the Johnny English Reborn credits ran, I experienced post-partum elation.
Did you see Johnny English Reborn? And if not, why not? Post a comment, and Two Cranky Guys will respond!