Ever notice how there are more spy-spoof movies than real spy movies? No joke -- they've been grinding out Bond parodies at least since OUR MAN FLINT, and that was back in 1966. It's gotten to the point where the spy spoof is a genre onto itself: It no longer pokes fun at Bond; it just recalls previous spy spoofs. So it is with JOHNNY ENGLISH, which reminds one of nothing so much as a second-rate AUSTIN POWERS.Rowan Atkinson, big nose and all, is an unlikely superspy stumbling amiably through a standard plot about a French billionaire (John Malkovich -- not bad, even if he tends to sound more German than Gallic) who schemes to get himself crowned King of England. Natalie Imbruglia, of all people, pops up as Atkinson's sorta love interest. I say "sorta" because the filmmakers were wise enough to realize we're not gonna buy Atkinson as a ladies' man, not even in a screwball flick like this, and so the two scarcely exchange a kiss.
JOHNNY ENGLISH is a mildly diverting affair, no more and no less. Aside from a couple inspired slapstick bits, the film basically depends on its low-wattage charm. You've seen a lot of these jokes before; we're often treated to recycled gags, like the one where Atkinson inadvertently utters an off-color phrase in a foreign language.
The movie's comic timing is erratic. Some of the gags drag on too long -- like the scene where Atkinson crashes a funeral -- but occasionally it snaps like a whip. Atkinson is such a talented physical comedian that you wish he had more room to maneuver than he does here.As a time-killer, it's not bad -- a watchable movie that won't leave you with painful memories. But considering how many spy comedies we've gotten just since the late '90s, you have to worry about what might happen if the next Bond film opens big.