FILM REVIEW – JOHNNY ENGLISH STRIKES AGAIN. With Rowan Atkinson, Emma Thompson, Ben Miller, Olga Kurylenko, Jake Lacy. Written by William Davies. Directed by David Kerr. Rated PG for some action violence, rude humor, language, and brief nudity. 88 minutes.
JOHNNY ENGLISH STRIKES AGAIN is Rowan Atkinson’s third outing as the comically inept British spy. Johnny has retired and is now a teacher where he’s showing children various elements of spycraft – instead of whatever subject he’s supposed to be teaching – when he gets called back to service. The Prime Minister (Emma Thompson) is told that someone has outed all their secret agents and is otherwise hacking British technology, so they have to recall retired agents who are off the grid.
The villain, as is revealed quite early, is Jason (Jake Lacy), a high-tech wizard whom the P.M. is trying to recruit to solve her problems. Like Peter Sellers’s Inspector Clouseau, Atkinson’s Johnny English can be counted on to make things worse before bumbling his way through to saving the day. The comedy is slapstick and easy, and those viewers who simply want to be distracted and have a few laughs should find this satisfies.
The gags are very undemanding. If English tells his assistant (Ben Miller) that there’s no need to refuel their car, you know they will run out of gas. If he’s told there’s some paperwork to be filled out before trying out a virtual reality run-through of his mission, you know he’ll try it out before the test supervisor gets back. And let’s not even get started on what happens when he disguises himself in a suit of armor.
Since this is a James Bond spoof, there needs to be an exotic woman/love interest. Ophelia (Olga Kurylenko) is a Russian agent who seems to be in the employ of Jason, but who has an agenda of her own. English’s attempt to be suave will, of course, lead to more slapstick. Ultimately, they have to join forces against Jason.
Depending on one’s sense of humor, there are sequences that work and others that may not. A highlight is his testing the VR goggles for a dry run into Jason’s stronghold but actually taking place in more mundane locations like a coffee shop and a tourist bus. Other moments land with a thud, as one easily anticipates things not working or otherwise backfiring. An overlong scene in a restaurant, where he’s trying to steal Jason’s cell phone disguised as a waiter, can only end one way the moment you see that the patio establishment is lit with torches.
Fans of the two previous “Johnny English” films will find this on par with the previous efforts, as will those who have enjoyed Atkinson’s turn as the equally inane Mr. Bean. Atkinson has said he has no plans to make any more moves as English or Bean, which is good news for those of us who are fans of a completely different character that he has done on television but has yet to bring to the big screen. Mr. Atkinson, are you now ready to do a “Blackadder” movie?•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Father of the Bride of Frankenstein, will be released in January. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.