Remember those vaguely annoying Barclaycard ads a few years ago in which Rowan Atkinson played a secret service agent who kept fouling things up? Well, someone has had the unpromising idea of stretching them to feature length, and Johnny English is the result. Atkinson is essentially playing an idiot Bond – 007 could be his IQ – exhibiting an incompetence and physical ungainliness reminiscent of his Mr Bean, and not much funnier. What everybody involved seems bent on ignoring is the fact that Mike Myers well and truly cornered this particular market with Austin Powers a long time ago. Who needs this Johnny-come-lately?
The plot concerns the theft of the Crown Jewels by French supervillain Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich) who intends to force the abdication of the Queen and install himself on the throne. Full marks for topicality – French treachery is so very now – but few marks for style or wit. The set-piece coronation, during which the Archbishop of Canterbury is seen to moon before the congregation, is typically leaden in its staging, and the spectacle of the froglike Atkinson copping off with diminutive agent babe Natalie Imbruglia is frankly less credible than John Malkovich as king of England. "You only laugh twice," someone quipped. That's twice more than I did.
Coincidentally, the man who shared Atkinson's finest hour in the Blackadder series also has an underdog comedy out this week. In The Girl From Rio Hugh Laurie plays Raymond, a put-upon bank clerk whose wife (Lia Williams) has run off with his hated boss. In revenge, Raymond empties the bank's vault and flies off with the loot to Rio de Janeiro, where he becomes entangled in a plot involving gangsters and a Samba queen (Vanessa Nunes) – the sort of farcical scenario that Britcoms do so very poorly. (Will we ever learn?) Director Christopher Monger had a hit some years back with the Hugh Grant comedy The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill, no great shakes in itself but an absolute corker compared with this tripe.
Easter approaches, and with it a bunch of kids' movies that should give parents at least one afternoon in hell. There's something rather shame-faced about The Jungle Book 2 and its arrival a full 36 years after the original Disney cartoon. Why now? Isn't video the natural habitat for such knock-offs? Mowgli, restless with village life, heads back to the jungle and the company of his old pals for no less than three reprises of "The Bare Necessities," while arch-enemy Shere Khan prowls in the shadows trying (and failing) to imitate the inimitable hauteur of George Sanders.
Tawdry stuff, though not quite as excruciating as the week's other animated feature The Little Polar Bear, based on the children's book by one Hans de Beer, who sounds more like a Dutch football hooligan. This recounts the heart-warming adventures of eponymous polar bear Lars, who not only breaks the ice (as it were) between his own kin and the local seals but heroically wards off ecological disaster by sinking a huge black fishing boat. Personally, I would have happily clubbed Caruso the singing penguin, but tots will probably love him.
Younger viewers may also be tickled by Seeing Double, starring S Club in their very own "band-on-the-run" movie. The plot, if it can be so called, concerns the scheme of a fiendish mastermind to replace the fresh-faced sextet with "popbot" impersonators. Either this is a sly comment on the postmodern obsession with manufacturing popstars or else a cheapjack showcase for the Club's bright, jaunty, perfectly unmemorable tunes. I'm tending to the latter view.
And, finally, something for grown-ups. Shot in grainy monochrome, Le Souffle is an impressively raw, in-your-face account of youth on the cusp of manhood. We are on a farm in the Limousin region of France, where handsome, spotty 15-year-old David (Pierre-Louis Bonnetblanc) drinks wine for the first time over lunch with his uncles and their mates; he wanders off in a drunken haze, goaded by the boredom of rural life and loneliness. First-time director Damien Odoul has a great eye for casual lyricism, such as the funeral David gives a dead rabbit while a donkey stands by as chief mourner, and his intimate observation of the paysan type – jolly, jowly, oddly tender – suggests that la France profonde has found an eloquent new portraitist. And in the lead role Bonnetblanc is outstanding, a livewire crackling with barely understood desires.
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