Movie review: Johnny English Strikes Again, misses target
A video recently resurfaced of a speech by Rowan Atkinson. In it, he proposes we should be free to insult each other.
Well, thanks for the permission, because your film is **********.
Oh, looks like this newspaper's bounds of decency won't let me be as insulting as I'd like.
Let me temper this with some praise.
I grew up on Atkinson’s work. He was brilliant with withering put-downs in Blackadder. I laughed until it hurt at some of his near-silent comedy as Mr Bean – the favourite of many a post office queue and a character that justifiably made him famous worldwide. Even his stammering turn in Four Weddings And A Funeral was a comic masterclass. He is funny both physically and verbally on a level few can match.
So what happened here? This third Johnny English film comes seven years after the last one. It is clear that time was not spent honing the jokes.
It has the feel of a children's film of old, quaint and gentle albeit with an old person's grumbling desire for the pre-smart, pre-WiFi days - there is an anti-technology theme throughout the thin plot.
And where are the jokes? For a comedy film, actual gags are few and far between; set-ups are heavily sign-posted then the punchlines are reiterated just in case you missed it. There is rarely any gag that has spontaneity.
If jokes are the heart of a comedy, then the joke rate is like the heart beat and this film is close to flat lining.
Even then, some of the jokes are very familiar. One gag – that the phone English is given as spy equipment is just a phone, not some amazing weapon – is similar to one done by the Bond franchise six years ago. It is not a great look if the films you are spoofing beat you to the punchline.
Another about camouflage was done in the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes films.
The pacing is also off. For an 88-minute film, it drags. Director David Kerr has done great work on the small screen. Unfortunately, this feels like a potentially cracking half-hour of content stretched out too far.
I was wondering, in one of the films many humour-free zones, if this is really a kids' film should I go easier on it? But then, the Dreamworks and Pixar films manage to pack in the jokes and are entertaining for all ages.
Compared to other comedies, this film has an overbearing feel of “will this do?”.
Emma Thompson gives her role as the British Prime Minister no small amount of gusto, while Olga Kurylenko as the femme fatale gamely plays the straight woman to Atkinson's laboured mugging.
But outside of the main actors, everyone else appears to be a member of the public who won a contest to be in the film. And Jake Lacy, who plays the smarmy tech billionaire turns in a performance so wooden you wonder if his next project it to become a real boy.
There is one moment that made me grin though.
English, trying to be suave with Kurylenko's character, immediately forgets the pseudonym he just gave himself – a rare moment when Atkinson's effortless skill with expression and wide-eyed bewilderment is fully used.
And as if to show how bereft of ideas this film is, the main plot ends with Atkinson's bare buttocks – a different way of scraping the bottom, I suppose.
The last two Johnny English films were huge successes. This will probably do the same because if you want something the whole family - from toddler to grandparent – can watch quietly together, this is it.
But that does not mean it is good.
Rating: 2 stars
MOVIE: Johnny English Strikes Again
STARRING: Rowan Atkinson, Emma Thompson, Ben Miller, Olga Kurylenko
DIRECTOR: David Kerr
THE SKINNY: After a cyber attack reveals the identities of all the active undercover agents in Britain, secret agent Johnny English (Atkinson) is forced to come out of retirement to find the mastermind hacker.