England versus France flicks battle

Bean does Bond in Johnny English Reborn and the Three Musketeers

Rowan Atkinson takes on Bond in the spoof Johnny English Reborn

Rowan Atkinson takes on Bond in the spoof Johnny English Reborn

Johnny English Reborn

First, the good news. Rowan Atkinson is in good form as he reprises his role as a singularly inept spy in Johnny English Reborn. Although the original only delivered intermittent chuckles, this sequel for the James-Bond-as-buffoon is ridiculously funny much of the time.

After living in disgrace for five years – during which time he has been studying arcane martial arts in a Tibetan monastery – Johnny English is summoned back to England to squelch what his masters at MI-7 fear will be an attempt to assassinate the Chinese premier during upcoming talks with Britain’s prime minister. Looking a bit like a large-nostrilled vole out of Wind in the Willows, English is soon tracking down clues in Hong Kong. In between dodging the lethal attentions of a murderous Asian granny disguised as a cleaning lady, English finds himself on the trail of a trio of arch conspirators known as Vortex.

As the plot trundles predictably along, English shuttles between blithering incompetence and occasional moments of adequacy (which are referenced back to what he learned in Tibet). Fans of the Bond series will see many echoes here, from locales to plot points. Although Peter Sellers’ bumbling Inspector Clouseau is the obvious godfather of all this slapstick foolishness, Atkinson is also a comic genius and very much puts his own stamp on these droll shenanigans. I admit it: I laughed like an idiot. M

 

The Three Musketeers

 

The bad news comes with a bad French accent via The Three Musketeers, which represents a crass plundering of one of the great swashbuckling entertainments of all time. Although it bears a surface resemblance to the Dumas novel, this rendering of 18th century intrigue and treachery reaching from the court of Louis XIII to the highest levels of power in England has been both simplified and turned into a CGI-driven mashup of over-the-top action sequences ripped off mostly from the Pirates movies.

Both the wit and the swordplay are dull indeed in this tossed-off, embarrassingly overwrought fromage-fest: blame the script and the actors. The mannequin dressed up like youthful musketeer-in-training D’Artagnan clearly attended the Keanu Reeves school of robotic line readings. Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) is hugely disappointing as Cardinal Richelieu: this would-be conspirator is about as menacing as a peevish baker. And Milla Jovovich, as the viperish Milady de Winter, should stick to stomping those Resident Evil zombies. Only Orlando Bloom as the Duke of Buckingham and Matthew Macfadyen (MI-5, Pride & Prejudice) as world-weary Athos combine actorish panache with a feel for the period and the genre.

By the time a very a-historic dirigible crash lands on top of poor old Notre Dame, there’s nothing for it but to seek consolation in a refill of “le popcorn.” Mon Dieu! M

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