Rowan Atkinson, affectionately known to TV audiences on both sides of the Atlantic as Mr. Bean, stars in 88 minutes of PG summer silliness as a British secret agent with an exceptionally lame brain. But he’s not the only one: Director Peter Howitt (AntiTrust) and the writing team of Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and William Davies do little to make this spoof of James Bond hardly more than predictable and only intermittently funny.
Geezer: Did you watch “Mr. Bean” when you were a kid?
Weezer: It’s a pretty great show that comments on uptight English society. Rowan Atkinson, who plays this complete goofball, has said in interviews that he takes off from the old silent comedians, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the slapstick comedies. He doesn’t talk, just kind of mumbles sometimes and makes little noises, so it’s all visual — he’s a great physical comedian with great mannerisms. They made a Mr. Bean movie as a Hollywood production — in it, he’s living with this American family in California, and inadvertently, through his stupidity, he saves an art masterpiece from some crooks. He even does a little fake spy stuff in there, and it’s pretty funny, but that’s all.
Atkinson’s really big in Britain and France. I remember flying to France with mama when I was 10 and they played like 15 “Mr. Bean” episodes in a row on the plane. It wasn’t on very loud and everyone was sleeping, but I was half-asleep and half-watching Mr. Bean lose a baby at the fair.
Geezer: The French have their own silent tradition and, in particular, a classic visual comedian named Jacques Tati. That stuff really communicates well internationally. But Atkinson talks in Johnny English.
Weezer: Though not much — he’s still a subdued personality. Some of the jokes in Johnny English are funny; still it’s just a spin-off of The Naked Gun with Leslie Nielsen as stupid Lt. Frank Drebin.
Geezer: Johnny English is an idiot, just like Frank ...
Weezer: And he gets the attractive girl and somehow ends up saving the day ...
Geezer: Which is in the great tradition of bumbling detectives that includes Inspector Clouseau — Peter Sellers of The Pink Panther series and Roberto Benigni in that debacle, Son of the Pink Panther.
Weezer: But the jokes in Johnny English are so obvious. And I was really offended that they stooped to the level of poop humor, because in the Mr. Bean shows, the humor is never grotesque. It’s always really dry, quaint or clever. I was a little horrified here at the ridiculous ca-ca jokes, which are like something from Dumb and Dumberer.
Geezer: It’s grotesquely ca-ca, because they really emphasize it when he reaches for the toilet paper.
Weezer: John Malkovich was pretty funny as Pascal Sauvage, the French villain ...
Geezer: Though his phony French accent was horrible — I expected it to peel off like old plastic paint.
Weezer: When he speaks French English — “oh, zis iz verry goood” — that’s funny. It’s more of an inside joke, like they knew his accent was horrible, though to many Americans he sounds like a regular French guy. But the jokes are blatant and the plot is simplistic. This is a missed opportunity, because Atkinson’s potential isn’t fully tapped. The scriptwriters seem to realize they’re appealing to an American audience and lose that English-gentleman dry cleverness in favor of a more American slapstick. Like, “Let’s gross them out — let’s have potty jokes.”
Geezer: A golden opportunity gets missed when Johnny follows the beautiful agent lady into a sushi restaurant. He pretends to know all about chopsticks and sushi, and obviously doesn’t know anything. When he rubs the chopsticks together, I started anticipating a really cool, extended bit, but it was very short and
they didn’t explore anything. Obviously the writers didn’t have a clue as to what to do with that scene.
Weezer: It’s just Juvenile Scriptwriting 101. You can see the jokes coming a mile away. And I’m not saying they need to be crazy-new and inventive, but the writers don’t try anything new. I gave LXG two stars and this is about equally entertaining — it made me laugh, though it’s such basic stuff. The Pink Panther and The Naked Gun were over the top, but this takeoff doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary.
Geezer: If I compare this movie to some of the losers we’ve seen this summer, I’ve got to give it one thing: It’s got a good heart.
Weezer: But I’m not telling anyone to pay to see this. Your kids might enjoy it — it’s pretty clean fun, aside from the poop.
George Tysh (Geezer) is the Metro Times arts editor. Bruno Tysh (Weezer) is a high school senior. E-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.