In an absurdly Americanized London, a girl loses her job as a PR consultant by dint of an office infraction absurdly suggesting the Fall of Man. Down on the Underground platform, she misses her train, and on the street a purse-snatcher leaves her slightly injured. She can’t find PR work, restaurant and catering jobs are all that’s available to support herself and her boyfriend. She becomes pregnant, and discovers he has an American mistress, also pregnant. She falls down a flight of stairs, goes to hospital, loses the baby, banishes the boyfriend, recovers her health and meets a nice chap in the lift who cues her remembrance of Monty Python’s line, “No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition.”
Intercut with this is a second version of the events. She catches her train, meets the nice chap, finds her boyfriend in bed with his mistress, moves out, changes her life, goes into PR work on her own, falls in love with the nice chap, becomes pregnant, gets hit by a car and dies in hospital.
The touching complications of plot have her penitentially reduced to supplying offices with foodstuffs. A junior executive dresses her down, claiming her wares are tainted, but this is the American mistress sizing her up unawares.
Even more touching are the convergences of plot and unconscious, unnoticeable to almost every reviewer. She dies in the arms of her dream lover, blindsided by a random car, and wakes to send her faithless lover packing.
Some of the same preoccupations figure in Fierce Creatures and A Fish Called Wanda.
The scheme of the production is an elaborate masquerade sending up familiar types, and this involves any number of tantalizing red herrings. The structure takes the metaphor of acquisition by murder and makes it, by an elaborate artifice that’s part of the show, into the “source code” of the worldwide communications network revealed at the end.
So the form and the content coincide, the “open source” dispersal of the monopolist’s system is the film itself, illustrating the title.
Johnny English is not on the ball, yet he saves England from a foreign corporate pretender. British critics seem to have found it rather silly, but then, if you’re British, recent history will be funnier than any film or will not be funny at all—or else what you’re really after is something very silly indeed.
Wrong ‘ole, mate. As English wrestles himself to the ground, the crown jewels descend through the floor into a waiting coffin and are driven off in a hearse. His Aston Martin is towed, so he commandeers the lorry in pursuit. Hoist in his own AM, his picture is snapped by a traffic camera as he flies through a red light. Fortunately, he remembers the car fires missiles rearward, so he destroys the evidence.
He loses the coffin and finds it about to be buried. He dances on it in glee, and rails upon the mock mourners, until his assistant (whose name is pronounced “Boff”) leads him away jabbering like a lunatic, because he’s stumbled on an actual funeral.
Atkinson’s Bond impersonation is quite capable. If you had wanted a spy spoof, you would have played off the opening daydream. A personal satire, on the other hand, could do no more than pay homage to Blake Edwards.
Rather, you have a satire of contemporary England, and if you do not find it pointed it’s because you have the wrong end of the stick. Pascal Sauvage the French tycoon has the crown jewels, because he intends to claim his obscure title by forcing the Queen to abdicate. Johnny English has found the Sauvage hideout, and climbs up through a drainage pipe to gain admittance. At that moment, all seats are taken in the men’s, and he is deluged. “It’s only a bit of poo,” he explains, as he makes his way to the main hall, where all seats are taken at the banquet table while Sauvage explains his plan, in a scene modeled on Meet John Doe.
John Malkovich in a wig has a girlish smile that’s winning in its way, but the money shot is the look on his face as he marches up the aisle to claim his crown.
“Mistake” is not a word that appears in Johnny English’s dictionary, he tells his boss, whose name is Pegasus (Tim Pigott-Smith). That’s a dictionary which has hardly been perused.