There’s a new standard set for product placement in Johnny English, letting the main character scoff at the idea British Intelligence has been purchased. It’s no longer a government agency so much as it’s owned by Toshiba, the glowing purple sign outside of the office indicating the corporate tie-in gleefully.
Know what? It works. This is a case of where there’s proof said company can laugh at themselves a little, not merely slyly shove their logo onto computer screens as if they’re embarrassed too. Then again, that happens as well, so maybe it’s not a clean handed as it might appear.
Still, it’s setting a tone for this buffoonish parody of the Bond legacy, Rowan Atkinson’s quirks and bulging, surprised eyes always primed for a generous laugh. Johnny English adores the source material, setting the stage for international assassination inside a gadget room. This one is replete with decapitating disc media. No wonder people are so eager to go digital.
After a while, the film almost feels obligated to push a series of running gags, a few too many considering how perfect an elder woman assassin is portrayed. She’s all this one needed. Mixed identity melds with playful slapstick and plentiful crotch slamming, an easy comedic out that deserves at least a snicker.
There are plenty of mild laughs to go around, if nothing that generates a belly aching howl. Johnny English has limits, never reaching for a comedic ceiling, even if it’s consistently breezy. Either Atkinson under the influence of a mind control drug and slamming his head into a wall is a comedic gold mine for you or it isn’t, but people acting like morons is about as mainstream as it gets.
The crisscrossing internal espionage wouldn’t be allowed even in a direct-to-video spy feature, garnering a pass here because it’s rapidly accepted that nothing is meant to be engaging material short of the comedy. After all, someone worked a deal to privatize the deepest intelligence organization working today. If that doesn’t get the point across, nothing will.
Universal paints a purty digital picture with this VC-1 encode, enough that the film stock’s grain structure is imperceptible. Short of the opening scene where the unfocused backdrops produce a heavy dose of banding, that’s an issue that will slink away quietly without any leftover residue.
What’s after that? A generally clean, if wildly inconsistent presentation that never settles into a defined groove. Close-ups are either distressingly smooth and soft or pristine in their replication. There’s no logical means to know what’s due up next. There’s one shot of Atkinson during a break in a chase scene that seems deplorably filtered.
Saving graces are certainly the colors, a bright, image enhancing palette of primaries that dazzle when on full display. Sadly, by the end, Johnny English has succumbed to a monochrome teal. All of that flash is instantaneously wiped for this sedate color selection. At the very least, that’s 10 or so minutes out of the piece, whereas flesh tones and glitzy backdrops (especially the Hong Kong scenes) score.
While vivid in brightness, the disc misses a shot from the opposing side, glossing over black levels in critical scenes. They’re needed the most inside dimmer offices or apartments, the exact moment they decide to lose their thunder. Go figure. Image degradation from the loss isn’t significant, just distracting when the quality dips and dives with such regularity.
To its credit, the audio mix holds a unexpectedly vicious low-end, produced during explosions, engines panning by, and comedic cues. It’s rare a comedy, even one with a little more activity than most, can surprise with a helping of bass.
Imaging in general is appreciated, on full display during a helicopter run at street level (yes, that’s what it means). Patched up with a little gunfire, rotors pan to the sides and engage every speaker when needed. Smaller cues, say a dropped gun behind the viewer, will register cleanly in the surrounds. This one has some pep.
Dialogue is managed well, balanced and precise, even traveling outside the center on occasion. The score, especially the opening and closing themes, push wide into the stereos and wrap around to the rears, completing an engaging and satisfying DTS-HD mix.
Director Oliver Parker and writer Hamish McColl give their thoughts via a commentary track, Parker sticking around to cover 17 deleted scenes. Parker introduces each, pushing them to near the 40-minute mark. A gag reel has a number of goofs worth your time, more so since it’s so short (2:29). The English Files is a passable 25-minute making-of, certainly more endearing than the typical studio tripe. If you want more of the tripe-y feel, that’s contained in Working with Rowan.
Gadgets is self-explanatory, but just in case, it covers the designs, ideas, and objects scattered around the shop. English in Hong Kong focuses on the location shoot, while Wheelchair Chase delves into one of the goofier sequences in the film. Universal offers D-Box support and BD-Live access too.