Johnny English Strikes Again (2018)

His license renewed. His intelligence restricted.

No one really asked accident-prone secret agent Johnny English to strike again, but I’m so glad he did, as the third installment in this fifteen-year-long spy spoof is a rip-roaring rib-tickler — and probably the best entry in the unnecessary trilogy. Boasting his unique brand of goofball humor, Rowan Atkinson suits up, once again, as the titular blundering MI7 intelligence officer, awkwardly stumbling from one side-splitting screw-up to the next, a character based on Atkinson’s clumsy secret agent Richard Latham who, along with long-suffering sidekick Bough, appeared in a string of UK adverts for Barclaycard back in the ’90s, the credit card constantly getting the two out of a tight spot.

An innocent cup of English Breakfast tea or a deadly weapon?

This latest Johnny English escapade plucks Atkinson’s ‘deadly tool’ out of an early retirement, when a mysterious, albeit practical-joker-type cybercriminal (clowning around with traffic lights and causing all sorts of mayhem across London) exposes the identity of all active undercover agents, this just days before the British PM (Emma Thompson) hosts her first-ever G12 summit. With security breached and their informers compromised, Her Majesty’s Secret Service is forced to call upon Johnny English, an ex-agent expunged from the system, who casts aside his job as a geography teacher (where he trains his pupils in the art of espionage and camouflage) to serve his Queen and Country, English given mere days to catch the high tech hacker who’s holding the nation at ransom.

Much to his dismay, a lot has changed since English was last in the field. Those ‘cool and clever’ analog devices, for one, have all been upgraded to digital, with smartphones replacing gadgets and guns. Heck, even the Aston Martin has been tossed aside for a more modern, eco-friendly vehicle. Dumbfounded by this modernization, English accepts the top-secret mission, but plans only to use his wits, cunning (more like lack-thereof) and old-school methods/ sensibilities to unmask the felon, re-teaming with another relic from the past, former pal/ weapons boffin Bough (Ben Miller), who’s been MIA since 2003’s original Johnny English. Their first stop is the exotic Mediterranean coastline the French Riviera, where the last known cyber-attack signal was detected. There, English begins to uncoil a dastardly plot, led by tech-savvy Silicon Valley tycoon Jason Volta (Jake Lacy), a smarmy computer jock hell-bent on seizing control of the worldwide web.

Ready to kick bottom!

While I can’t for the life of me remember the first Johnny English, or its sequel Johnny English Reborn (2011), they’re not exactly what I’d call prerequisite viewing, as Johnny English Strikes Again can be wholeheartedly enjoyed without having seen the prior chapters. Of course, it helps if you’re a fan of Atkinson’s slapstick-sketch comedy-type humor, this third English caper playing out like a moderately budgeted skit show. Reprising his role, Rowan Atkinson — best known for his portrayal of the mumbling childish buffoon Mr. Bean — excels as the smug yet stupid superspy Johnny English, whose misguided belief in his own capabilities causes all sorts of comical calamities, the 63-year-old funnyman brilliantly mixing arrogance with absurdity.

Helmed by telly director David Kerr, Johnny English Strikes Again, at times, can feel a smidge small screen — kinda like a cross between The Black Adder (1982-89) and Get Smart (1965-70). But don’t fret, as the game Mr. Atkinson keeps the larks coming, utilizing his rubbery physique and freakish facial expressions to generate laugh after laugh after laugh, the screenplay by William Davies — who’s penned every Johnny English picture thus far — surprisingly well-structured, the climax coming together rather cleverly, too. Granted, it’s all a little clichéd and predictable, but who comes to a send-up film expecting an overly original story — I sure as hell don’t! When it comes to the screwy set pieces, most (at the very least) manage to wring out a chuckle or two, with a handful hitting a home run. From silly sight gags — think weird and wacky exoskeleton suit/ magnetic boot mishaps — to madcap misunderstandings, English, at one point, even moonlighting as waiter at a fancy-pants restaurant (which doesn’t end well), it’s an absolute hoot to watch the overconfident 007-wannabe (who still somehow manages to save the day) fumble and bumble on screen. Around every corner is a disaster waiting to happen.

‘Is MasterChef taking applications?’

Of the out-and-out thigh-slappers, one in particular is sure to bring down the house. It’s a scene that sees Atkinson’s English wear goofy virtual reality goggles, inspecting rooms and corridors of Volta’s flashy mansion. Being so inexperienced with VR headsets, English (immersed in his own surroundings) accidentally moseys out of the VR chamber and onto a bustling city street, the VR environment kinda mirroring that of the real world. What ensues is a hilarious sequence (about five or so minutes in length) that has the clueless English entering shops and cafes viciously attacking pedestrians/ passers-by with anything he can get his mitts on (i.e. chopping boards and crusty baguettes), our heedless hero unaware of what’s really going down. The final act is also a howler, especially the scenes in Scotland, in a castle on the shores of Loch Ness, where English gets inadvertently stuck inside of a knight in shining armour. Brilliant stuff!

And though this is hands down the Rowan Atkinson show, support players are all quite amusing; Emma Thompson, Love Actually (2003), looks to be having a jolly good time as the UK Prime Minister, whereas former Bond babe Olga Kurylenko, Quantum of Solace (2008), oozes sensuality as Russian femme fatale Ophelia Bulletova, a sultry seductress whom English first locks eyes with while infiltrating Volta’s jazzy yacht, the Dot Calm. On Volta, Jake Lacy, coming off this year’s Rampage (2018), fits the bad guy bill well, bringing a splash of charm and charisma to the vain technological villain, even if he lacks the sheer megalomaniacal menace of classic Bond movie baddies. Lastly, look out for some fun uncredited cameos from high-profile British stars Charles Dance, The Imitation Game (2014), Michael Gambon, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010), and Edward Fox, The Day of the Jackal (1973), who take on the roles of Agent Seven, Nine and Five, respectively, a trio of retired elite ex-spies brought in to assist with the cyber-breach crisis.

The game has changed. Unfortunately, he hasn’t.

A nice change of pace from those raunchy R-rated romps, Johnny English Strikes Again is clean, fun family farce, and worth signing up for. Either way, if this is the last we’re to see of Johnny English and his jovial antics, Strikes Again (thankfully) closes the series out on a relative high. But I say bring on a fourth, as when it comes to Atkinson’s action-thriller tomfoolery, the spy’s the limit!

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by S-Littner

Johnny English Strikes Again is released through Universal Pictures Australia