Review – Rowan Atkinson’s charm has limits in ‘Johnny English Strikes Again’

Patrick Wilson is the main host of the weekly Popcorn Muncher Podcast and also writes as a regular guest contributor to The Popcorn Muncher.

Poster for 2018 comedy sequel Johnny English Strikes Again

Genre: Comedy
Certificate: PG
UK Release Date: 5th October 2018
Runtime: 89 minutes
Director: David Kerr
Writer: William Davies
Starring: Rowan Atkinson, Olga Kurylenko, Ben Miller, Emma Thompson, Jake Lacy, Amit Shah, Adam James
Synopsis: When the identities of every British secret agent in the field are exposed in a cyber attack, MI7 reluctantly brings Johnny English out of retirement to track down the perpetrator.

 

 

Johnny English Strikes Again is just not funny enough. That could sum it up in one sentence. It falls into the same traps as its 2011 predecessor Johnny English Reborn in that it has a single kernel of an idea that it focuses on, rather than devoting its efforts to being funny. In this case, the central idea is to dramatise the battle between the analogue ways of the past and the high-tech of today.

At the start of the story, Rowan Atkinson‘s bumbling sort-of-spy is called back into action after a cyber attack leaves all of M17’s active agents exposed. Along with his returning sidekick Bough (Ben Miller), he is soon on the hunt for the perpetrator, whilst dealing with the mysterious, shifting motivations of Russian femme fatale Ophelia (former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko).

The analogue and digital battle is seen throughout the movie. Johnny laughingly scoffs at being given a smartphone and the young techy equivalent of James Bond’s Q is bemused by the idea of even issuing an agent with a gun before rattling off the health and safety concerns of a firearm. It’s really not a clever analogy and it goes exactly where you think it will. Yes, of course Johnny’s old fashion ways are deemed better. Yes, they’re going to save the day and yes, the evil Mark Zuckerberg-esque villain is going to be defeated by old fashioned British spirit and gumption.

It’s all very trite, very predictable and, worst of all, not funny. Johnny’s failings should always be the main mill of humour in one of these films, but here he swings between competence and idiocy whenever the movie wants to let us know that ‘tech = bad’, at times totally robbing the movie of any humour. It’s definitely a movie made for the middle-aged dads in the audience, who can’t be bothered with this all of this confounded techno jibber-jabber.

The elements are there for a movie that could have at least been in the ballpark of the first movie, but they’re woefully misused. Miller’s spirited sidekick Bough is back, which is great, but he’s utilised totally wrong. In the first movie, he was sort of the Kato to Johnny’s Green Hornet – the competent one in the pair, who had to adhere to his superior’s idiocy with a British stiff upper lip so as not to cause a fuss. Here, he acts like an indentured manservant who, at times, has to be incompetent because Johnny’s busy proving how sucky electric cars are. Also, Emma Thompson is in the movie as the British Prime Minister. And that’s about all I have to say about her performance.

I did at least chuckle at the movie whenever Atkinson is just allowed to make use of his brand of physical comedy. It’s a joy to watch with a particular, drug-fuelled dance sequence being the standout. Unfortunately, too much time is spent on badly written jokes that don’t work and the direction leaves a lot of jokes falling flat. Reaction shots are held awkwardly and don’t sell jokes well enough. It’s surprising because first-time feature director David Kerr has done a lot of good work in TV, including That Mitchell and Webb Look as well as Inside No. 9.

All in all, it’s just underwhelming. There’s a bunch of talent here that does nothing of note and it just isn’t funny enough. Focusing on a central theme is a mistake when it comes at the expense of comedy, something the first movie focused on wholeheartedly.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Poop!

Johnny English is back, but any suggestion he might have grown up has been thrown out of the window. This threequel is a mess of half-formed ideas and episodic skits that are almost funny, but are desperately in need of honing. If this is the result of a seven year gap between sequels, they should probably just consign this franchise to the shelves of DVD stores. It’s no longer fresh, and it’s no longer funny.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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