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Johnny English

Starring Rowan Atkinson
Screenplay by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and William Davies
Directed by Peter Howitt

IN SHORT: Hysterical family fun. [Rated PG for Comic Nudity, some Crude Humor and Language. 88 minutes]

FYI, director Peter Howitt made his debut with Sliding Doors, a gem of a film starring Gwyneth Paltrow which we heartily recommend you seek out and get your hands on.

Just as Austin Powers parodied James Bond, with an emphasis on things sexual and technological, so does Johnny English take on the British Secret Service. Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson) is a research desk jockey whose job it is to provide the BSS secret agent force with the latest information and things like blueprints and break-in plans. Johnny is incredibly good at his job, which is a satirical way of saying he's light years beyond incompetent and that's the reason why all the British Secret Service agents are on permanent vacation.

Consider those last two words. Now guess who gets the assignment when the British Crown Jewels are stolen from right out under his nose?

Well, he is the only agent left. Sort of. Johnny gets a trainee partner, Bough (Ben Miller) to show the ropes to. There's an Interpol agent called Lorna Campbell (singer Natalie Imbruglia) who keeps crossing his path. All three are hot on the trail of their sole suspect, pompous Frenchman Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich), who may or may not be the most evil man on the face of the planet. Sauvage made his fortune by building privatized jails in 16 European nations and his plans for the British Isles (excepting Ireland) will make him even more fabulously rich than he already is. Of course, wealth is relatively immaterial since he plans to be King of England and turn the entire country into a profitable business enterprise. Sauvage's plan? To force the abdication of the Queen of Britain and ascend to a throne which, by lineage, is rightfully his. And he's got the Crown Jewels to prove it!

This is Earth-Atkinson, folks. No Prince Charles or Harry or the other one to get in the way of the joke. Johnny's efforts to retrieve the Jewels are such a botch that he gets kicked off the case and remanded to his home.

When the Queen actually up and abdicates -- we'd say someone remembers the most famous National Lampoon magazine cover of all time, except that Johnny English is a thoroughly Brit enterprise -- something, anything must be done to save the Empire from French "invasion". That means our lusty Interpol op must rally the branded agent from his depressive stupor, three gags in that scene alone, and get him back on the case, to save the Kingdom whose coronation of a new King is only days away.

Remember, Johnny English is thoroughly and quite professionally incompetent. When he screws up a situation, he screws it six ways to Sunday half a dozen again on Monday. All of 'em in this film are funny.

We plead guilty to being a fan of Mr. Atkinson, perhaps the most gifted physical comedian now working the planet. Atkinson's one man show literally made us bust a gut. Yeah, that's more info than you need to know, but it's enough to jump the hurdle of the Bean movie, Atkinson's expansion of his television show. Bean was funny. Johnny English is light years funnier, blasting visual and scripted gags at you at such a nonstop pace, grownups on either side of us were bouncing up and down in their seats. We take notes so we didn't bounce, but we could have . . .

Yes, Johnny gets a tech'd-up super car and yes, he gets the latest in high-tech super-weaponry. No, he has absolutely no idea how to operate the heavy machinery, can't tell the real Archbishop of Canterbury from a fake one -- which is important because the Archbishop is the only one who can crown a King -- and though it would be easy to kill the guy, Sauvage keeps English alive because he finds the agent's ineptness, "entertaining." Which is what this film is, start to finish.We can't write a lot more because that'd mean giving away the best jokes. Parents should know that the film's language is squeaky clean even though one hysterical bit involves climbing through a, waste disposal pipe.

Not something you'd want to do while wearing a white dinner jacket. There, that's all you're going to get.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Johnny English, he would have paid . . .


Take the kids or take a date. Buy the Godzilla sized popcorn. Enjoy.

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