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Posts Tagged ‘Johnny English Strikes Again’

It is with an appropriate sense of dutiful resignation that I find myself turning my attention to David Kerr’s Johnny English Strikes Again, a third outing for Rowan Atkinson’s incompetent secret agent character. I think it is safe to say that there was no particular public clamour for another Johnny English film, and that the main reason for the appearance of this one is that the Atkinson family finances could be in need of a top-up: Atkinson himself seems to be semi-retired these days, his only substantial appearance since the last Johnny English (seven years ago) being as Maigret on the telly.

The movie gets underway with a cyber-attack on British intelligence, compromising the identity of every agent currently operating in the field – and so, to track down the guilty party, the British Prime Minister (Emma Thompson) is forced to reactivate some retired agents, amongst them Johnny English (Atkinson), who has left the service and become a school teacher specialising in knockabout espionage gags (he is clearly beloved by his cute young charges; the presence of all the kids is really the first sign that this film is pitching to a juvenile audience in every sense of the word).

Well, after an odd little scene where the mere presence of Michael Gambon, Charles Dance and James Fox briefly lifts proceedings (sadly, these are merely uncredited cameos), English is sent out into the field with his trusty sidekick Bough (Ben Miller). They go to the south of France where they end up infiltrating a chic restaurant by pretending to be French waiters (cue silly voices); they encounter the mysterious yet glamorous Ophelia Bulletova (Olga Kurylenko), who seems to be working for the mastermind behind the plans; there are various pratfalls and other very obvious gags in the style of Mr Bean.

Meanwhile, the string of cyber-attacks on the UK continues, driving the PM even further up the wall. She resorts to retaining American tech tycoon Jason Volta (Jake Lacy) in order to try and shore up the country’s defences. What could possibly go wrong?

Oh, well, as you can probably tell, my Anglo-Iranian Affairs Consultant and I ended up going to see this film mainly because dinner-and-a-movie is just something we occasionally do, and – having been to the cinema six times in the previous week or so – there wasn’t much else on that I hadn’t already seen. And, you know, I told myself, it’s Rowan Atkinson, it’s very difficult for him to slip below a certain level of funniness, so it’s not like the film can be a total waste of time. Indeed, a colleague had taken a seven-year-old to see it and reported that she had in fact spent some of the film laughing.

I must be becoming even more of a withered old excrescence, because while I did laugh a few times during Johnny English Strikes Again, I don’t think it was in quite the way that the makers were hoping. There are, truth be told, some inspired moments of physical comedy from Atkinson, not to mention some quite good silly voices. But so much of the film is so painfully obvious and – as mentioned – laboriously telegraphed that while I was laughing, it wasn’t because the jokes were funny – it was at the idea that professional comedy film-makers thought that this kind of material was up to scratch.

As usual, the film operates in the same kind of narrative space as the Bond series. This may be because the original film was actually co-written by Purvis and Wade, long-time workhorses of the Bond franchise, and this time around the movie has managed to snag a genuine Bond alumnus in the shape of Olga Kurylenko (I am terribly shallow, but I do enjoy watching Kurylenko, even in films as dubious as this one) – quite what someone like her, who I would describe as a proper film star, is doing third-billed after TV’s Ben Miller, I’m not sure. It’d really be stretching a point to call this a Bond parody, though – the producers seem to have decided that the core audience for these movies is quite young children, which would explain a lot in terms of how silly and predictable most of this one is. Well, actually, it shouldn’t – even quite young children deserve better than this stuff.

One of the particularly frustrating things about it is that it refuses to engage (even in passing) with the real world. The closest it comes is when Thompson, who is clearly itching to do an eviscerating impression of Theresa May, lets rip about how awful and stressful her job is. Given the movie is largely predicated on the notion of how rubbish English people are at virtually everything, it pointedly refuses to engage on the main political issues of our time, even obliquely. When it does very occasionally seem to be slightly topically relevant, this is a) almost certainly by accident and b) almost uncannily misjudged Рthe plot revolves around a team-up between British intelligence and their Russian counterparts, for instance. The rest of the time it simply withdraws into a bland world of slapstick nonsense.

And I can’t help thinking that there’s a rather suspect reactionary whiff coming off this film, too, which leads me to suspect it may be intended as fodder for elderly Daily Mail-reading grandparents to take their hyperactive grandchildren to see. The issue of Britain’s place in the world may not be addressed, but there’s a definite sense of the film being suspicious of the modern world – the bad guy turns out to be an Elon Musk-esque tech boffin, there’s kind of a motif about doing things ‘old school’, and various jokes about Health and Safety regulations.

So, if you are an elderly, somewhat right-wing grandparent looking for something undemanding to shut up the brood of your brood, then Johnny English Strikes Again could very well be the film for you. For virtually anyone else, though, this is just too lazy and obvious and bland to pass muster. However, there are signs that the makers of this film are taking inspiration from Peter Sellers’ Pink Panther series, which only really concluded with Sellers’ passing. Atkinson is 63 and looks to be in good shape, so there may yet be future offerings from Johnny English in the future. But look on the bright side, there might be an environmental catastrophe and the collapse of civilisation first.

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