Comedy, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Discovering the rhyme or reason why we find one type of silliness more amusing than another is an exercise in futility. There are those who can't sit through more than a minute of Benny Hill's zaniness, but will crack up with a single expressive eyebrow arch from Rowan Atkinson. If you fall into the latter category, Johnny English Reborn is bound to please.
Atkinson returns as the Clouseau-esque superspy Johnny English, who is snatched away by MI7 from his training with monks in Asia -- he's been trying to master skills like how to take a kick in the "man zone" without so much as a whimper -- to stop an assassination attempt on the Chinese head of state. With the help of inexperienced Agent Tucker (Daniel Kaluuya) and a behavioral psychologist (Rosamund Pike) who is sweet on him, English uses a variety of Bond-like gadgets to track down an evil trio of assassins who plan to eliminate the Chinese leader.
There's a scene about halfway into Johnny English Reborn that's as pure a dose of Atkinson as you can get. While at a conference table with the British prime minister, the head of MI7, and other important figures, English can't figure out how to adjust his chair. Soon he's slowly rising up, finally sitting at least a foot higher than everyone else. Then his seat beings a gradual descent that ends with him looking nearly straight up at the PM. All the while, nobody mentions or reacts to the chair because they're too embarrassed. It's a ridiculous bit of physical comedy that works because of Atkinson's superior clowning skills. As good as he is as a verbal comic, he's often funniest when he's not saying anything at all.
Director Oliver Parker shows a knack for slapstick, especially in a rooftop chase sequence in which English uses his brains to pursue a parkour master leaping over and around every obstacle -- the segment plays like a loving tribute to Harold Lloyd. And the director also understands that this is Atkinson's show. The actor is the focus of every scene, and he's given enough time to let his occasionally uncomfortable pauses stretch to the point when they finally get laughs.
Johnny English Reborn isn't memorable, and it won't give you stomach pains from laughter. It aims simply to amuse you, and it achieves that goal with commendable consistency.