Johnny English Peter Howitt

Johnny English Peter Howitt
In Johnny English, pigeon-like funny man Rowan Atkinson's titular British secret agent is so Clouseau-esque he might consider changing his name to Johnny French (if not for the fact that his movie exploits the age-old cross-Channel schism). While he dreams of being the top agent on Her Majesty's secret service, and thinks he fools people into believing he is, English is really a daft git covering up his insecurities with a heady dose of smug self-importance. He's so incompetent that he doesn't even know how to be suave in his own fantasies.

When an explosion wipes out every other secret agent in the country, English's boss, Pegasus, has no choice but to enlist him to keep watch over the royal crown jewels at a fête in the Tower of London. (Instead of the requisite dry martini, English orders a Bloody Mary.) Aside from the Queen herself, the party's guest of honour is French aristocrat and prison magnate Pascal Sauvage (a preening, ponce-y, hilarious John Malkovich). When the jewels are inevitably stolen, English is roped into tracking them down, and all signs point to Sauvage as the culprit. So, with the help of a comely biker chick agent from Interpol (Natalie Imbruglia) and a trusty sidekick (Ben Miller), English attempts to retrieve the jewels and thwart Sauvage's plan to be crowned King of England and turn the country into the world's largest penal colony. Take that, 28 Days Later!

In an age when even what was originally camp is game for satirical treatment (think Mike Myers' roasting of Matt Helm or the Charlie's Angels movies), a straightforward spoof doesn't stand much of a chance. If you're over the age of eight it can all seem a tad precious. Such is the case with this clunky misfire. It has a gentle charm but is ultimately just too old-fashioned for its own good. Atkinson does a bang-up job transplanting his Mr. Bean and Black Adder personas to the big screen — half refreshing naïf, half pathetic schmuck — but ultimately he sinks under the weight of a scattershot script full of poo jokes and pratfalls. There are plenty of funny moments, but, on the whole, this English muffin feels decidedly piecemeal. (Universal)