Seven years may seem like an age between sequels, but we definitely could have waited much, much longer before having to sit through another Johnny English film. Now with a third instalment in the series, Rowan Atkinson returns as the British government’s clownish last resort ready for another moronic attempt at espionage.
In Johnny English Strikes Again, cyber attacks on the UK have revealed the personal data of every secret agent working for MI7, leaving only a handful of former names capable of finding the culprit. Having accidentally bumped off his competition and, reunited with sidekick Bough (Ben Miller), the inept English takes the job and heads to the south of France to begin the investigation. Jake Lacy as tech-wiz baddie Jason Volta and Olga Kurylenko as Ophelia Bulletova, a Russian spy with a vague stake in the action, round out the supporting cast in thankless roles.
The usual chaos ensues as incompetency reigns supreme. As expected, English falls over a lot and accidentally sets fire to things, making a mockery of British Intelligence. Even if Atkinson’s brand of physical comedy hasn’t entirely lost its appeal, the vast majority of the film is tediously humourless. The hackers targeting the UK have a bit more imagination at least, and perhaps the funniest quips in the film concern their efforts to set all the traffic lights in the capital to red or redirect all London-bound planes to Luton airport. Frankly, at this point, it’s no less than we deserve.
When the laughs are directed at surrounding characters, the far nastier streaks to English’s persona emerge. Bough reveals to him that he’s recently married a woman in the navy and the bumbling, misogynist spy asks whether she’s there as a cook or a “travelling secretary”. Then there’s the ‘needs PhotoShop’ alert that flashes up on Volta’s phone after he takes a selfie with Prime Minister Emma Thompson. And, if tear gassing a group of French cyclists from in an Aston Martin wasn’t Brexit-y enough, Atkinson seeing out the film in a full suit of armour does the trick.
Technology is the clear enemy here and, despite the idiocy on display, it is English’s luddite sensibilities that come to help him the most. Volta’s brand of villainy revolves around his youth and intelligence, and our blundering, parochial hero’s inability and unwillingness to use a smartphone is his ultimate fighting tool. The point may be to emphasise the titular character as a flimsy, slapstick figure of ridicule, but these films continue to champion a stiflingly ignorant and unfunny individual.