Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Johnny English Strikes Again

My notes on Johnny English Strikes Again, which opens October 5.

Rowan Atkinson’s Johnny English – a riff on the incompetent spy he’d done in a series of adverts – made his screen debut in 2003, and showed up again in 2011 in Johnny English Reborn.  The gap between entries in this attenuated series suggests few were exactly eager for more of this Clouseau/Get Smart knock-off, especially with Atkinson ageing to the point when some of his rubber-limbed pratfalls look more like an old git falling over painfully than deft clowning.  In the event, this a laughs-lite redo for a franchise that never reached Austin Powers levels of hilarity and struggles to do more than raise the odd smile here.

The basic premise is workable – a cyberattack blows the cover of all the current spies at MI7 and the PM (Emma Thompson, holding back from doing a nasty Theresa May parody) suggests bringing an old one out of retirement … which means intelligence chief Pegasus (Adam James) calls in Johnny, who is now a geography teacher at a private school, along with a trio of cameo codgers (Charles Dance and Michael Gambon – reunited after Ali G Indahouse – and Edward Fox) who get totalled in a joke mishap with a stun grenade pen that stubbornly fails to work, like so many others to come.  The obvious villain is Jason Volta (Jake Lacy), a Muskerbergjobs tech gazillionaire manipulating the G12 summit into turning over all their data and thus – hah! – control of the world.  Johnny gets in a gas-guzzling Aston-Martin that can’t keep up with an electric car, co-opts his old sidekick Bough (Ben Miller, presumably under orders not to Baldric the limelight away from the star) to help him set up slapstick routines, and blunders his way to the South of France and back, tangling with Bond girl Ophelia Bulletova (Olgy Kurylenko, deserving better), and going through extended jokes involving a magnet boots, VR headset, a kilt, an exoskeleton and – for God’s sake – a suit of armour.

Written by series creator William Davies (whose CV is studded with not-that-funny credits like Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Dr Jekyll and Ms Hyde, Alien Autopsy and Flushed Away – plus a fluke strike with How to Train Your Dragon), and the feature debut of Inside No. 9 director David Kerr.  007 parodies wore out their welcome even before the official series started doing duck-on-head disguises – and this fails to engage with the genre in any inventive or fresh manner.  Residual affection for Atkinson goes a long way, but the gags and routines here are almost all botched – editing and pacing is notably bad, as if done by folks unfamiliar with the basic grammar of ordinary comedy.





4 thoughts on “Film review – Johnny English Strikes Again

  1. Just to clarify – is it the stun grenade pen or the joke itself that fails to work? (I mean, there could be many other stun grenade pens to come, for all I know …)

    Posted by William K | September 30, 2018, 9:39 pm
  2. Does Mr Atkinson have a holiday home in the South of France? He goes to that location in Mr Bean’s Holiday, too. Which is his best film, it’s not great but it is pleasing.

    Still waiting on that Alternative Carpark movie.

    Posted by THX 1139 | October 1, 2018, 12:35 am
  3. I hope this is not considered an abuse of the comments section – I gotta tell somebody and humbly beg the indulgence of whoever. I had this idea for a Johnny English/Austin Powers gag and I don’t know what else to do with it (both franchises having now run their course this is an exercise in futility). Remember Bond had that mousetrap gadget that snapped shut on a goon’s fingers in the opening scene of Diamonds Are Forever? Here’s what we do: establish this device early on is in Johnny Powers’ possession, with a distinctive twangy sound effect, exaggerated Looney tunes scream from the hapless pocket-rifling stooge (it’s a bit nasty but it pays off). Later, Johnny sits down to play cards against an implacable Le Chifre-esque nemesis. It’s a confrontation of wills, with neither man wishing to display even a hint of being intimidated. Somebody hands Austin Bond soemthing and he absent-mindedly pus it in the pocket with the mousetrap-thingy. Cue twang sound effect. It’s a Peter Sellers scene with James English desperately trying to contain his discomfort, and parry Blofeld’s verbal jousting, if I may mix metaphors. Perfect scenario for the rubber faced one? Does anyone have he number of his agent?

    Posted by William K | October 1, 2018, 12:37 pm

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