There can be little doubt that Rowan Atkinson is one of the UK’s best if not richest comic actors whose earning dwarf those of Michael McIntyre, Peter Kay and even Ricky Gervais. Most of this is due to the massive global success of his Mr Bean films and spin offs which, being silent, transcend international language barriers. Aside from his TV masterpiece Blackadder it’s his spy role that’s also done big business and seven years after the last film, Johnny English Strikes Again.
As the over confident and wholly inept British spy from MI7 English is bought out of enforced retirement where he now earns a living as a teacher at a school where he deludes himself that he’s mentoring the next batch of spies. In an opening scene that sees a massive IT breach reveal every UK spies name – a story not dissimilar from that in Skyfall, it means that English plus several others are the only ones whose identity have not been made public. Invited in along with 3 other elderly spies played by Michael Gambon repeating his old man schtick form King of Thieves, Edward Fox, looking like he’s had a stroke, and Charles Dance, in for a quick pay day, Atkinson sees them all off in a proficient display of physical comedy in which he excels.
Having accidently landed the job he hunts down the person behind the IT breach aided by his bright sidekick Bough (Ben Miller back after opting out of the second film).With Emma Thompson as the Prime Minister adding a bit of class yet in maybe a bit of pointed scripting she only too willingly succumbs to an oily IT CEO with ulterior motives and signs over the UK’s IT systems to him. Olga Kurylenko plays Ophelia and much like the Bond girl she played in Quantum of Solace as the villains love interest is repeated here with her ultimately revealed to be an agent on the same mission.
Johnny English Strikes Again is the third film in the sporadic franchise that has run for 14 years and has William Davies as sole scriptwriter for the film. It’s unusual as so many comedy films have a team of writers as seen with Kevin Hart’s Night School with its 6 screenwriters (which worked out at roughly one per laugh). Atkinson’s best work has always been with Richard Curtis who knows a thing or two about jokes and combined with Atkinson’s physical comedy made them an unstoppable tour de force. Johnny English’s Strikes Again has a script which flags up far too many jokes and its Atkinson’s buffoonery that is most entertaining notably in a restaurant scene where he is disguised as a waiter and ends up destroying the venue and a bar scene where he attempts to seduce Ophelia. There are some decent jokes at the expense of health and safety when English is issued with a gun by MI7’s version of Q, a bean stick thin teenager with a voice that sounds like his balls haven’t dropped yet. But at 63 years old Atkinson like the rest of us has age catching up with him and though there are scenes of comic brilliance other scenes which rely on his physicality aren’t as sharp as when he was half the age doing similar stuff.
Directed by David Kerr, a TV director with massive experience in comedy, brings it in at a taut 90 minutes. For older audiences who will appreciate the jokes about not understanding the world of hi-tech Johnny English is an analogue spy in a digital world. This is short on belly laughs and is more of a chuckle fest and Johnny English Strikes Back is a film that young audiences are likely to appreciate far more than older audiences who still pine for Atkinson’s Black Adder and Not the Nine O’Clock news days.
Here’s the trailer for Johnny English Strikes Again …..