When all of England's super agents are taken out by an evil French mastermind called Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich), who has designs on stealing the crown jewels, the Brits send in their last standing agent, Johnny English. Atkinson, whose physical brand of comedy is an acquired taste among Americans, plays his secret agent role as a cross between his inimitable Bean and Roger Moore's incarnation of 007. He's incompetent, but droll about it.
Oddly, Ben Miller plays English's sidekick, Bough, completely straight. This is a terrible mistake, as Miller is actually a quite funny stand-up comedian. Aussie pop singer Natalie Imbruglia plays an undercover agent on to Pascal's plan. She's lovely, but probably should have made her feature film debut in a Peter Weir movie. Director Peter Howitt ("Sliding Doors") is no Peter Weir; he's also no Farrelly brother. "Johnny English" is surprisingly tepid. It's silly, which is expected of the rubber-faced Atkinson; it's also occasionally very crude, which is expected of most contemporary comedies--but it's hardly ever funny. Which, based on the trailer, one might also have expected. Starring Rowan Atkinson, John Malkovich and Natalie Imbruglia. Directed by Peter Howitt. Written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade and William Davies. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Mark Huffman. A Universal release. Comedy. Rated PG for comic nudity, some crude humor and language. Running time: 86 min.