This often clever spy spoof was inspired by a popular series of British credit card commercials from the 1990s. They starred Atkinson as an accident-prone agent not nearly as suave and debonair as he thinks he is. Here, when Britain’s top Secret Service agent dies in the line of duty—and the rest of that elite force gets blown up at his funeral—a bumbling 007 wannabe named Johnny English becomes the country’s best hope for recovering stolen crown jewels and preserving the monarchy. Pascal Sauvage, an embittered French entrepreneur, plans to seize the throne and turn the entire nation into a penal colony. So Johnny, with the help of a devoted assistant named Bough and the lovely, mysterious Lorna Campbell, sets out to stop him.
Johnny, Bough and Lorna risk personal safety to stop the bad guys and preserve England’s future. Bough is an intensely loyal sidekick. Power-hungry entrepreneur Pascal Sauvage is vilified for his theft, greed and treachery. Lorna preaches patriotism and perseverance to a discouraged Johnny.
A man impersonating the Archbishop of Canterbury has the statement “Jesus Is Coming—Look Busy” tattooed across the top of his backside. A priest conducts a graveside funeral service. The crowning of a new king takes place in the church and is presided over by religious figures (one of whom refers to Old Testament heroes, and recognizes the Trinity by invoking the names of Father, Son and Holy Ghost).
Men’s bare backsides are exposed. Johnny thinks of himself as a ladies man and daydreams about seducing a shapely spy (he’s brought back to reality just as they’re about to kiss). Upon meeting Lorna, he comes on to her without success. Later in the film she revisits the subject, saying, “I suppose you’ve made love to lots of women.” Without getting specific, she speaks of her lust for him. The movie’s theme song includes a line describing the hero as “a stallion in the sack.”
Except for the implied murder of Britain’s top spies at the beginning of the film, there are no casualties. Exchanges of gunfire don’t even leave anyone wounded. Lorna and a sniper engage in hand-to-hand combat before she disables him with a kick to the groin. Guards are knocked out with blows to the head. A man is hit with a champagne bottle. Another gets clocked with the butt of a fire extinguisher. Criminals invade Buckingham Palace and threaten to shoot the Queen and her dog. Bough falls and gets a bloody nose. Johnny accidentally shoots a woman with a tranquilizer dart. There’s a lot of slapstick, physical humor (people whack their heads, fall down holes, get ejected from vehicles, etc.).
Fewer than a dozen profanities in all. The most egregious are an “a–hole” and several exclamatory uses of God’s name (“my g–,” “for g–‘s sake”). Comments refer to urination and “poo.”
At parties and formal receptions, guests consume champagne and other alcoholic beverages. Johnny and Lorna drink sake at a Japanese restaurant. One of Johnny’s secret agent rings administers a truth serum. Another dispenses a strong muscle relaxant that slurs the victim’s speech and makes his limbs go limp. A secretary gets knocked out by a stray tranquilizer dart.
There’s a disgusting scene in which men are shown relieving themselves and Johnny, trying to enter the building through a sewer pipe, ends up drenched in their feces. Like most spies, Johnny English does ignoble things in order to achieve a noble goal. He lies, defies orders, steals a tow truck, destroys property, knocks an innocent man cold so he can don his clothes and assume his identity, etc. Rather than taking responsibility for his gaffs, Johnny tries to cover them up with lies and deception.
Although this concept has been done before, Johnny English is appealingly lightweight and often innocuous fun. The screenplay was co-written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who also penned the James Bond films Die Another Day and The World Is Not Enough. Their familiarity with the genre lends a certain authenticity to Johnny’s world as it blends action and physical comedy. The first half of the movie won me over. Had it stuck with that same formula for the duration, it would have been a harmless romp for families turned off by the offensive Austin Powers series. Unfortunately it turns a corner, employing gross-out bathroom humor, stepping up the profanity and adding disappointing, though not explicit sexual dialogue. That’s too bad, because in many other ways, Johnny English demonstrates the kind of restraint that proves it wants to be a family film.