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Movies involving inept but successful detectives or secret agents are nothing new to cinema. There is a long legacy of these types of movies throughout the history of film, and one of the latest is Johnny English, starring the always amusing Rowan Atkinson. Universal has now released the film on a single disc.

The Movie
British comedian Rowan Atkinson has achieved most of his fame from two television series - the most famous being the hilarious Mr. Bean, and, to a lesser extent, the Black Adder series of programs. Although Mr. Bean was also made into a film (which paled in comparison to the series), Atkinson has held mostly supporting roles in other movies - such as Rat Race, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Scooby Doo. Johnny English is his latest attempt at a starring role in a feature film, and it finds him reverting back to what has brought him the most success - situational gags and physical comedy.

Loosely based on a character in a series of credit card commercials which appeared in the United Kingdom, Johnny English tells the story of a lowly administrative employee in the MI:7 (the British Spy agency) who suddenly finds himself the lone secret agent when all of the other spies are killed in a massive explosion. Tapped to now provide security for some British jewels, English is later thrust into the middle of a scheme hatched by Pascal Sauvage (played way over the top by John Malkovich), a French businessman whose plan is to install himself as the King of England. Meandering his way through a series of cases of mistaken identity and bumbling antics, English attempts to expose and foil Sauvage's plot and save all of England in the process. Of course, events are happening around him that he is oblivious to and it is only through sheer luck (and some help from his assistant Bough and Natalie Imbruglia playing a character with mysterious motives) that English succeeds at anything.

Johnny English
The story both gains and suffers from Atkinson's previous work. It gains because many of the situations are tailored to Atkinson's style of humor. However, it suffers because to me, Atkinson has become so associated with his Mr. Bean character that I found myself thinking of English as "Mr. Bean who talks a bit more". In addition, although there are some funny moments in the film, I kept finding myself realizing that Atkinson had done this type of performance before, with much better results, in his Mr. Bean series.

Ben Miller as English's assistant Bough puts in a good performance, personifying the voice of reason throughout the film. In addition, Imbruglia puts in a likeable enough effort, but the true tragedy of the entire film is Malkovich. His performance as Sauvage I found to be always well over-played, and at times even absurd. Having such a long list of stellar performances to his credit, I almost found it incomprehensible that he would agree to even be in a film of this kind....which in no way diminishes what the film was trying to achieve. It just does not appear as though Malkovich is well-suited to comedy. I can only assume he agreed to appear in this film because it was being made in Europe, and besides the fact that he resides in France, he seems to be avoiding Hollywood recently.

Overall, as a film, although it does have some moments of brilliance, the obvious comparisons to both Atkinson's Mr. Bean and the other bumbling detective films of Peter Sellers and Mike Myers left me wishing it had delivered more. However, fans of Mr. Atkinson's work (and I am certainly one) should be generally pleased with what they see here.

Video
The film is given a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation here, and it delivers a fairly good print. The transfer seems to have been done well, and the color palettes appear to be right on. There is no noticeable grain or dust artifacts to speak of, and both flesh tones and black levels all come across very good.  A decent presentation in total.

Johnny English
Audio
Unlike the Region 2 DVD, there is no DTS track here. We are given only a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, and I would have to say that it seems to fit the movie fine. As I cannot compare it to the DTS track, I can only say that the 5.1 presentation is utilized at key points in the movie, most noticeably during the gun battles (at one point during a shoot out in a parking garage, all of the channels are used and it seems as though bullets are flying from every direction). The music of the film is powerful but not overpowering and the vocals all come across crystal clear. During a unique twist on a car chase, the bass is given its full workout and it comes across in fine fashion.

Extras
One of my biggest complaints with the disc has to be with the extras. The first (and probably biggest) gripe is the lack of any commentary track. Although I find many commentaries to be boring, to not include one in today's day and age is almost DVD heresy! In addition, the exclusion of any theatrical trailers is also a big omission and in my mind, almost lazy. There is actually no extra effort to be made when one includes a trailer, since the trailer itself is part of the marketing campaign for a film. So, in essence, the most basic of extras and the least expensive of extras weren't even included on the disc. That is inexcusable.

Johnny English
Of the extras that were included, there are a few good, albeit short, ones. The making of the film featurette has the requisite discussions with the actors and director, and even includes a brief clip of one of the commercials featuring Atkinson playing the character on which Johnny English is based. Oddly, there is a pause in the middle of the featurette which indicates an end to Part I and a beginning to Part II. At first I was confused by this, and then after reading our own Tom Woodward's excellent review of the Region 2 version of the film (click the link to it in the right hand column of this page!), I came to learn this was due to the fact that it was probably created for British television. A few moments in the editing room could have taken care of this, and really should have been done.

Deleted scenes are next and there are some rather lengthy ones included here. Unlike the R2 disc, you don't have to navigate through the observation test to see these, they are included under their own section here. Thank you Universal! Here you'll see a scene cut from the agent meeting, and several scenes involving Savant eliminating anyone who dares to (or even thinks to dare to) stand in his way. Look for Atkinson playing another character here in much the same style as Mike Myers plays multiple characters in his Austin Powers films.

Johnny English
If you blink you'll miss the next extra, something entitled "Spy Tips". It is basically 45 seconds worth of Atkinson telling you what is needed to be a successful spy. Due to its length, it is nothing you'll remember for very long. Next is the "Observation Test" mentioned earlier. Here you are given several scenes and then asked a question about them afterward to determine how good you are at recalling details from those scenes. You must get them correct to continue, and if you manage to answer them all correct, you are brought to a repeat of one of the deleted scenes. Kind of neat, but once through and you'll never do it again, and it would have been nice to include something unique at the end of the test. Apparently they weren't able to link anything else other than a deleted scene (but at least they didn't have all the deleted scenes at the end like in the R2 disc).

The final extra on the disc, other than the DVD-Rom features (which are in themselves somewhat lacking), are character profiles. These are your standard fare and are not anything spectacular.

Overall
Johnny English came and went here in the states with little fanfare. It didn’t make a big splash or rake in a lot of dollars. Although some may claim that Rowan Atkinson is popular only in Europe, he has a somewhat rabid if smaller following here in U.S. due to the broadcasting of his Mr. Bean series on many Public Television stations. If you are a fan of Atkinson, you’ll feel satisfied with the disc. Otherwise, if you're trying to decide between this and another film at the rental store, choose the other film.


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