David Kerr (director)
88 mins (length)
05 October 2018 (released)
06 October 2018
Hit by surprisingly non-devastating cyber terrorist attacks, the British secret service, once again, has no one else to turn to but everyone’s favourite secret agent. No, not Bond. Not Austin Powers either. And no, it’s not a feature adventure for Tom Hiddleston’s character from The Night Manager. It’s English, Johnny English.
Johnny English Strikes Again is a film very much ruined by its own trailer. It’s not that all of the jokes are given away, it’s just that the majority of the funny ones are. In a world haunted by the dangers of technology, English is a threat to a cyber enemy: he is off the grid, he drives cars that don’t have computer chips, and he still carries disastrous gadget pens. Already, you can probably imagine about 60% of the film without having seen it.
There are good elements to this film, the main one being Rowan Atkinson, reprising the role after 7 years away from the big screen. Atkinson’s face is as impressive as ever – most of the big laughs come from his unparalleled talent as a physical comedian. The same cannot be said for the rest of the cast and creative team, though. The resurrection of Ben Miller’s character, Boff, from the original film just reminds us how much Daniel Kaluuya’s Agent Tucker was a welcome change in Reborn, and Olga Kurylenko’s turn as Russian beauty Ophelia is beyond thankless. David Kerr’s direction is extravagant in it’s blandness, and truly the only thing to talk about is William Davies’ screenplay.
There is a habit within the film to draw a condescending amount of attention to a comical nod being made, and also to heavily signpost a joke that will receive a pay off later on, at which point it is so expected that it loses all impact. The extent to which Davies does this is that at one point there is a use of Chekhov’s gun (coloured pills in this case) so painfully highlighted that is seems he is making fun of his own laziness as a writer. It is perhaps supposed to be tongue in cheek.
Sadly, the film runs into the same obstacles faced by Steve Martin’s The Pink Panther 2, and The Hangover 2 (and 3). What once might have busted guts now garnishes titters. We know what to expect, and vague attempts to ground the film in modernity come off as cheap and a bit of a gimmick: Johnny English vs Brexit. Grey pound technophobia gags overshadow better written attempts to subvert genre – that’s what worked so well in the first film after all.
As an update on a formula proven to work on two occasions, Kerr, Davies and Atkinson couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome. Set pieces are well coordinated, and some jokes do land in just the right spot, but the film they have ended up with leaves a lot to be desired. There is an overwhelming sense of pointlessness here - the sheer fact that this is not a film that needed to be made. Atkinson’s ability clearly hasn’t dwindled, so why return to such a dated character? Especially given that English barely breaks the top 3 of his famous comedy roles, and yes I am counting his vocal performance as Zazu in The Lion King. And sure, perhaps no one is planning an animated spin off featuring everyone’s favourite hornbill, but there are other wells to mine. Blackadder series 5 anyone?