You can only go to the well so many times…
With 15 years having passed since the debut of the character to now we can safely say that we’d actually forgotten this character existed and with Johnny English Strikes Again now hitting theatres we get a spy spoof that is at its best mildly amusing but well beyond its expiration date as it just isn’t made for North American audiences and Rowan Atkinson’s shtick but still sitting on close to a $100 million at the global box office which makes us wonder if we may even get a fourth installment before the man knocks on retirement age.
When a cyber-attack reveals the identity of all active undercover agents in Britain, Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson) becomes the Secret Service’s last hope. Called out of retirement, English dives head first into action with the mission to find the mastermind hacker. As a man with few skills and analogue methods, Johnny English must overcome the challenges of modern technology to make this mission a success.
To be fair, there’s nothing really wrong with Johnny English Strikes Again, it’s just Rowan Atkinson doing his bits and the kind of physical, goofy comedy that made him famous, but even back in 2003 the movie spoof format had become a little tired and in spite of a solid script and some decent conceptual gags, nothing really lands and just plays out kind of flat from beginning to end. It’s the kind of film where you occasionally smile…but you never really laugh.
Writer William Davies returns having been involved in all other installments and the material certainly has a solid thread throughout never feeling out of place and riffing on various old school vs. new school spy techniques. While the jokes aren’t necessarily the ‘laugh out loud’ type, there’s enough to make you smile and he does provide some interesting twists on the standard spy thriller while shoehorning it into the modern era all at the same time. Director David Kerr, who has mostly spent in his time on the small screen, jumps up here to the big screen with a solid and effective style that while hardly flashy is actually just about more then they needed. The film has a flow and never gets hung up anywhere fairly pointless and for these movies it’s just about the plot unfolding and letting the lead stick a cocktail umbrella up his nose.
Less of an actual actor and more of a comedian; Rowan Atkinson has his beats and his routines and he sticks to it. His stylings are fine but we’re reminded here that they are really played out and feel more than a decade out of touch. It’s all very gentle and pleasant, but also very mediocre having worked much better in other properties like Mr. Bean or Black Adder.
Olga Kurylenko plays the mysterious femme fatale that are standard to the genre and while she’s actually done it a Bond movie, here she feels a little out of place. Ben Miller returns from the original installment as Bough while Jack Lacy actually brings some fresh energy to the billionaire tech mogul villain role but Emma Thompson (bless her heart) is trolling this movie hard for a paycheck as the Prime Minister.
It’s hard to truly pan something like Johnny English Strikes Again because it’s hardly poor filmmaking by any stretch of the imagination but this gamut of jokes that this film is trying to run is just so damn tired that it ultimately feels like there’s just not much that’s all that right with this film either.