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Since the glory days of Blackadder and Mr Bean, success hasn’t been particularly forthcoming for Rowan Atkinson. Although he has taken part in some pretty big theatrical ventures of late; they nearly always turn out to be less than respectable (Scoobydoo and Rat Race being prime examples). The small screen however, has been slightly kinder to Atkinson (I’ll try and forget the animated Mr Bean series for now) with a successful string of Comic Relief appearances and some pretty amusing credit card commercials for Barclaycard. The latter of these saw Atkinson playing a rather incompetent spy, a role that suited Atkinson’s skills perfectly. So what would happen if we were to pad out one of these thirty second commercials into a full-length feature film? We'd get Johnny English, that’s what…

Johnny English
Movie
Rowan Atkinson plays Johnny English, an inept paper pusher working amidst the elite spy world of MI7. Other than handing out secret orders to the best of the best, English really has very little to do with the spy underworld itself. Most of his day is spent fantasising about what might be, and unfortunately for Britain; what might be is about to come true. Following a catastrophic terrorist attack that wipes out the entire spy agency, English is left as the sole employee of the company. He is therefore quickly elevated to secret agent status and given his first ever mission – to protect the Crown Jewels. Naturally, things don’t go quite according to plan, and before long his mission becomes the retrieval of the crown jewels instead! Assisting him on his perilous mission is his loyal companion Bough (played rather excellently by Ben Miller) who brings a much-needed dose of intelligence to the partnership. After a number of cockups, mistakes, disasters and so forth, English and Bough eventually uncover a dastardly plot to replace England's monarch with what the British fear the most: a French king!

So how does Johnny English stand up against similar spy spoofs such as Austin Powers? Thankfully, remarkably well. Although Johnny English is far from the perfect movie, Rowan Atkinson wisely uses the film as a vehicle to display more of his stupid antics that we have grown to love. The character of English is really little more than a modification of the Mr Bean character, with the funniest moments revolving around the utter stupidity and general naivety of the character. The jokes are a little hit and miss at times but the film is dragged out of mediocrity by a catchy musical score and some extremely well conceived action sequences. One particularly impressive scene involves a rather original take on the standard car chase formula. We don’t just get to see an Aston Martin DB7 doing what it does best, but we get to see it at work whilst hanging from the crane of a recovery vehicle! Pretty funny stuff.

Johnny English
The performances are pretty good on the whole, although the supporting cast all take a firm second place to the leading man. Naturally, the audience are here to see Atkinson act like an idiot, and in that regard he doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. Although he has essentially just reworked the character of Mr Bean, he still manages to craft an interesting enough character that the audience can sympathise with when the going gets tough. The supporting players also do their job well for the most part. The ever-reliable Ben Miller turns in a great little supporting performance as English’s sidekick Bough, and he even manages to upstage Atkinson on one or two occasions. The weak link comes in the form of John Malkovich as the villain of the movie – Pascal Sauvage. Although I can’t fault Malkovich as an actor, his French accent here leaves a lot to be desired. You’d think that a man that lives in France and speaks French fluently would be able to come up with something a little more respectable! Natalie Imbruglia also turns in a performance that any Australian soap opera would be proud of, although I can forgive her more than Malkovich as she’s certainly a little more attractive!

Video
As you would expect for such a recent film, the transfer here is for the most part immaculate. The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and other than a small amount of grain in some of the darker sequences, there’s really very little to fault about it. The majority of the film exhibits a clean print, with bright, crisp colouring throughout. One of the initial scenes takes place at a funeral and the clarity of the image here is simply stunning. Overall then, a more than acceptable transfer.

Johnny English
Audio
Universal is one of the main supporters of the DTS format and thankfully they’ve supported it once more with this release of Johnny English. Firstly though we’ll take a look at the Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Unfortunately my expectations were a little too high for this one as the track is nowhere near as immersive as I had been hoping. The main problem that I found here was that the sound nearly always seemed to be confined to the front of the soundstage. I had been hoping for a little more variety, with bullets flying all around the room, but that simply wasn’t the case. Thankfully this becomes a lot less apparent with the DTS 5.1 track, which offers a much broader range of sound, although the problem isn’t eliminated entirely. Still, what’s lacking in the surround usage is more than made up for with bass, and when the action kicks in prepare yourself for a few broken windows, glasses and eardrums! Overall, not quite reference quality but still handles everything thrown at it for the most part.

Johnny English
Extras
After an entertaining film, and a technically sound disc, I was expecting a decent array of extra material to compliment the two. Unfortunately that wasn’t to be as only a small selection of extra features have been included here. Still; what is on the disc is pretty good, and kick starting it all is a featurette entitled The Making of Johnny English. This is a pretty run-of-the-mill feature on the whole, with a selection of cast and crew interviews interspersed with footage from the movie. The twenty five minute runtime is a little more generous than most though and you do get to see a fair bit of behind the scenes footage as well as a clip or two from the original Barclaycard commercials that inspired the film. The visual effects wizards also have their say on some of the key elements and you get to see them in various stages of production. The only slightly bizarre thing about this feature is that it was obviously originally intended for TV. How do I know this? Because the feature is divided up into two parts, you even get an ‘End of Part One’ message after around fifteen minutes. Why this wasn’t removed for the DVD is beyond me, it does look a tad bit lazy as is. The only other worthwhile feature included on the disc is a selection of deleted scenes. Unfortunately though it isn’t just a case of selecting ‘Deleted Scenes’ from the main menu. Instead you have to firstly take part in an Observation Test. Once you have successfully answered these five questions you automatically gain access to the eight minutes of non-anamorphic scenes. None of the scenes are particularly memorable but you do get to see Atkinson playing a rather mad baron.

Rounding up the disc is an assortment of Character Stats and DVD-ROM features. The character stats feature gives you a basic low down on the strengths and weaknesses of Johnny English, Pascal Sauvage, Lorna Campbell and Bough. For example, the Johnny English page informs you that his specialist skills are martial arts, origami and a sharpshooter with a catapult. A pretty worthless feature then, but it might entertain the kids for all of a few seconds! Lastly we have the DVD-ROM features, which include downloads, a spy profiler, spy challenge and Identikit. To access these you will obviously need a DVD-ROM drive along with at least Windows 98.

Johnny English
Overall
Johnny English is a surprisingly entertaining spy spoof that doesn’t always hit the targets it aims at but still manages to stay afloat thanks to the comical genius of Mr Rowan Atkinson. The supporting players also help to keep the film fresh with Ben Miller in particular proving that he’s not a man lacking comical timing either. So what about the disc? Well, technically the disc is top notch with a more than serviceable widescreen transfer and beefy DTS soundtrack. Unfortunately, the presence of two weighty audio tracks has obviously taken its toll on the rest of the disc, as only a slim selection of extra material has been included. Overall though, if you’re a fan of Rowan Atkinson this one is sure to entertain, if not, then I would advise you to stay well clear as his brand of humour is not for everyone! You have been warned.


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