Film review: ‘JOHNNY ENGLISH STRIKES AGAIN’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

In the Johnny English films Rowan Atkinson plays the titular character, a bumbling British secret agent whose stupidity proves more destructive than any plot hatched by the terrorists and megalomaniacs he battles. Like the love child of Maxwell Smart, Mr Bean and inspector Clouseau, English manages to bumble his way through a case inadvertently wreaking havoc and vanquishing villains by complete accident. It’s a familiar comedy film set-up and the Johnny English films have been unfavourably compared to the more elaborate and inventive Austin Powers movies. The first two English efforts were often loose and a few very funny gags aside, quite juvenile exercises in cliched humour. The third instalment, Johnny English Strikes Again isn’t exactly a model of sophisticated wit but it’s the strongest in the series so far.

While these films have never been as overt a pastiche of Bond films as the Austin Powers movies, Strikes Again twists the typical Bond ‘super spy versus super villain’ scenario into an amiable exercise in silliness flavoured with typical Atkinson humour.  Here the retired English is called back into service by the British Prime Minister (Emma Thompson) when an evil cyber terrorist threatens to take control of no less than the entire internet. In a direct reference to the Daniel Craig Bonds, English finds himself working alongside sultry Russian secret agent Ophelia (Olga Kurylenko). He’s also accompanied by trusty sidekick and gadget man Bough (Ben Miller).

The cyber terrorist scenario is really just a springboard for a string of gags that pit naive and unjustifiably confident English against a creepy tech-savvy villain. The gags are mostly pratfalls with English coming perilously close to destroying himself through his stupidity. The highlight gag sees English unwisely allowed access to virtual reality technology through which he manages to wreak havoc across London.

While many of the gags might to appeal more to youngsters than older audience members wanting more cerebral humour, there’s some well-staged physical humour. Also, this film is tighter, more coherent and flows better than previous instalments.

Atkinson draws on most of his comedic repertoire to nail that mix of suave and stupid and at 63 has lost none of his rubbery comic abilities. The supporting cast aren’t given a lot to do apart from cop the impact of English’s destructive bumbling although Jake Lacy (Plop from the American Version of The Office) is appropriately creepy as the tech billionaire and clearly influenced by certain prominent money bags tech industry moguls.

Johnny English Strikes Again is hardly a comedy classic but it’s mostly fun.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Comedy.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): David Kerr.

Release date: 20th Sept 2018.

Running time: 88 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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