TODAY’S LOSER FILM REVIEW: JOHNNY ENGLISH

Having missed a ten o’clock screening of The Lady in the Van at my neighborhood cinema, I shuffled back home in need of something, anything, intelligent to fill the empty pit between my ears. Home streaming would have to suffice. Thus to the musty annals of 2003.

Who, then, drives a gadget-loaded Aston-Martin? Tugs the cuffs of his white dinner jacket just so? Is a crack shot with a PPK, although not necessarily where he’s aiming? Yes, it’s English … Johnny English. This is the first of two fine pitchers in which Rowan Atkinson stars as Great Britain’s worst secret agent. Unlike Atkinson’s better known character, the risk-averse, nearly silent Mr Bean, Commander English of MI7 is not only voluble but ambitious and worldly. And nothing if not scrappy: if there’s a ladder, by gum he’ll take the sewer pipe right next to it.

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Of course our main thrill, this being a spy caper, is a set-piece car chase. In reckless pursuit of a hearse driven by master criminals through the tortuous chicanes of Bloomsbury, Johnny fully exploits the handling and raw horsepower of his DB7. That the car remains suspended in mid-air the whole time, swaying from the gantry straps of a tow-truck, only adds to the excitement. As the truck fishtails through heavy traffic, our hero mimes high-speed cornering action, his rubbery face contorted by imaginary g-forces.

A bonus — or “added bonus” as we say in America, where the word “bonus,” being Latin, defies understanding — is John Malkovich’s portrayal of evil mogul Pascal Sauvage. Finally, terrible acting is actually written into the role.

Now if I do have one quibble it’s about the toast that Johnny raises in the sushi bar scene. Granted, my Japanese is nowhere near as good as it once was, during my own time as a foreign asset. But what I heard — “Kimi no musumesan-tachi ni chiisai chinchin ga tsuitemasu you ni” — should be rendered, subtitles to the contrary, as “May all your daughters be born with tiny peepees.”

Hey, jus’ sayin’.

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