Johnny English Strikes Again tries but fails to recapture the magic of its predecessors, relying instead on well-worn gags, its (sadly under-utilised) A-list cast, and the burnished reputation of its star.
The movie is the third installation in the Johnny English franchise; this time, the plot sees Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson) retired, teaching at a boarding school in rural England. However, his days spent training students in espionage and survival are not to last; the UK has come under attack from hackers, who have unveiled the identities of all the active spies in the country, save the retired English.
Summoned back to the field, he reunites with partner Bough (Ben Miller), and an unlikely ally in Ophelia (Olga Kurylenko), a Russian agent.
We say “plot”, but only for convenience; the entire story structure is nothing more than a skeleton to hang Atkinson’s trademark physical comedy. The same sight gags that seemed fresher back in 2001 no longer seem funny in any way. The over-enunciated “B”, the funny walking, and the sheer ineptitude of English; these lame mannerisms are two decades past their sell-by date.
Because of this nauseating focus on English’s unfunny antics, the rest of the cast is neglected; the understated but ever-loyal straight man to English’s buffoonery, Bough, is played by Miller, who manages to make the best out of a painful situation.
Olga Kurylenko barely gets any lines as the ostensible femme fatale Ophelia, whose motivations and backstory are never revealed; she seems to serve merely as a lazy pastiche of the requisite “Bond girl”.
This is not to mention Academy Award-winning actress Emma Thompson, whom the script employs in the role of the prime minister who unwittingly becomes enmeshed in the net of cyberespionage.
Her character’s hammy and over-the-top ineptitude strikes a bit too close for home for fans of current UK prime minister Theresa May, and yet this topicality is misused to push a storyline that is obviously not worth the celluloid it is filmed on.
While the filmmaking industry hasn’t ever ceased the making of potboilers, Johnny English Strikes Again is an astounding new low point in comedy; its craven, humorless writing shows itself in recycled jokes, actors who deserve better, and the name of a once-great comedic actor, whom the movie sucks dry only to wear his husk as a disguise of relevance.