×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Johnny English Strikes Again’

Rowan Atkinson returns for the second sequel to his Bond-lite spy satire, but on the laugh meter Johnny English is no Austin Powers — or Mr. Bean.

Director:
David Kerr
With:
Rowan Atkinson, Ben Miller, Emma Thompson, Olga Kurylenko, Jake Lacy, Miranda Hennessy, Adam James, Pippa Bennett-Warner.
Release Date:
Oct 26, 2018

Official Site: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6921996/

In a pop-culture era rife with cleverness for its own sake, how did Rowan Atkinson’s new spy-spoof sequel wind up with a title as retro bland as “Johnny English Strikes Again”? Was “Johnny English Is Back!” already taken? How about “The Return of Johnny English”? “Johnny English Strikes Again” is the third in the series of goofy air-popped espionage satires in which Atkinson plays an MI7 agent who is stuck in the James Bond ’60s (that’s the joke, though the real joke is that he dithers and bumbles and disco dances on pep pills and clams up whenever he’s supposed to know anything.) That said, it might as well be the 33rd entry in the series. Because it’s not as if we’re living in a world that’s hungry — starved! — for vintage spy spoofs.

The “Austin Powers” movies took the same comic theme and ran with it in a far more ticklishly crackpot, laugh-out-loud merry-surreal way. Michel Hazanavicius’s “OSS 117” films, starring Jean Dujardin, are succulently deft and detailed period satires. And then, of course, you can go back to the “Naked Gun” films (technically about a police detective, though by the second film Leslie Nielsen was playing him as a global super-sleuth) or Inspector Clouseau, the character Johnny English actually most resembles. He’s that old school, that “classic” and quaint.

There’s a scene in “Johnny English Strikes Again” where Atkinson essentially does Peter Sellers doing Clouseau. Johnny English has to pretend to be a waiter, so he puts on a French accent (which makes it sound like he’s got a bumblebee buzzing around in his throat) and flambés a saucepan full of shrimp, which wind up as charred remains on the floor, but he serves them anyway, along with the tiny bit of champagne he hasn’t used to put out the flames. Funny…sort of. I smile-chuckled in a nod to the polished timing with which Rowan Atkinson can still bring off a sequence like this one, and to the general tradition of destructo-stumblebum comedy it represents. But it’s like watching a farce under glass. Should this be in a sequel or a comedy museum?

The character I thought of most during “Johnny English Strikes Again” was Mr. Bean, Atkinson’s other franchise nitwit, because he’s a much, much funnier creation. Bean, who’s essentially a fearless cretin out of silent comedy, is beyond oblivious; he’s so mired in his passive-aggressive idiocy that he’s impervious — a man-child clown who doesn’t begin to know what he doesn’t know. He’s a holy force of stupidity. Whereas the Johnny English films, because they have to function as spy movies, depend on Johnny being at once inept and (at convenient moments) half not inept. Which just waters down the comedy.

The first “Johnny English” came out 15 years ago and did okay business ($28 million domestic), but “Johnny English Reborn,” in 2011, faltered with only $8 million, and I wouldn’t expect “Johnny English Strikes Again” to fare much better. More than even before, this series has a leftover-goods, what-is-this-movie-doing-here? quality. Yet if you’re a fan of Atkinson’s twinkly egomaniacal absurdism, or just want to revel in that face of his, with its naturally italicized jet-black eyebrows and its mouth twisted into a grimace of befuddlement (Johnny is scowling at everything he doesn’t understand, which is more or less everything), there are a minor handful of scenes in “Johnny English Strikes Again” that will make you laugh. A bit.

The premise is that Britain is under a cyber-attack that has outed the identities of every current MI7 agent. As the prime minster, played by a fulminating Emma Thompson (“Vodka tonic! No vodka, no tonic!”), prepares to host her first G12 summit, Johnny, who is now teaching spy techniques to middle schoolers, is plucked from the obscurity of retirement to chase down the perpetrator. He is reunited with his sidekick, the redoubtable Bough (Ben Miller), and finds himself navigating the most generic of espionage scenarios with the aid of the low technology he still thinks of as high.

He’s driving a vintage Aston Martin that can barely navigate a hairpin turn, and he seems to believe that it’s a mighty advantage to toss away his cell phone because the villain “will never see us coming.” All very mild stuff, but when Johnny has a drink with Ophelia (Olga Kurylenko), a leggy Russian spy he has no idea is a Russian spy (he’s convinced she just wants to have a cocktail with him), his order of a drink called a London Lemming is a hoot. Johnny, of course, is still the nerd version of a Bondian caveman, to the point that when Bough informs him that his own wife is a British Navy captain who commands a nuclear submarine, Johnny stares at him as if he’s just been speaking in Urdu.

The villain is a Silicon Valley billionaire, played by Jake Lacy in as oily-obvious a fashion as the bad guy in a “Smurfs” movie. There’s one sequence that’s vintage Atkinson: Johnny is given a virtual-reality training session (to learn how to navigate the villain’s lair), and after accidentally stepping off the VR treadmill, he wanders through central London with his headset still on, attacking imaginary villains in a bookstore and a bakery, at one point slashing away with a pair of baguettes, which was the moment I gave in to laughter. On occasion, a movie like “Johnny English Strikes Again” will do that to you, but there aren’t enough occasions. The movie just made me wish that Atkinson would now make “Mr. Bean Saves the World” (in the process of trashing it).

Film Review: 'Johnny English Strikes Again'

Reviewed at Bryant Park Screening Room, New York, Sept. 20, 2018. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 88 MIN.

Production: A Universal Pictures release of a StudioCanal, Working Title Films, Perfect World Pictures production. Producers: Chris Clark, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Rowan Atkinson, Rafaël Benoliel. Executive producers: Liza Chasen, William Davies.

Crew: Director: Davis Kerr. Screenplay: William Davies. Camera (color, widescreen): Florian Hoffmeister. Editors: Tony Cranstoun, Mark Everson. Music: Howard Goodall.

With: Rowan Atkinson, Ben Miller, Emma Thompson, Olga Kurylenko, Jake Lacy, Miranda Hennessy, Adam James, Pippa Bennett-Warner.

More Film

  • Bradley Cooper speaks at the 30th

    Producers Guild Shifts 2020 Awards Show to Hollywood Palladium

    The Producers Guild of America will hold its 31st Annual Producers Guild Awards at the Hollywood Palladium, shifting the site from the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The PGA had already announced that the show would take place on Jan. 18. The organization, which represents more than 8,000 producers, announced Thursday that it has launched a new [...]

  • Adam Driver appears in The Report

    Amazon’s ‘The Report’ Gets U.K. Theatrical Release Ahead of Streaming Launch

    Amazon Studio’s “The Report” will be released theatrically in the U.K. three weeks before it lands on the Prime Video streaming service. The Scott Z. Burns film tells the story of Daniel J. Jones, a U.S. Senate staffer who worked to reveal that truth about an “enhanced interrogation” program run by the CIA in the [...]

  • Elton John performing at Earls Court,

    Elton John Has a Message for Struggling LGBTQ Youth: 'Be Proud of Who You Are'

    Elton John isn’t at a loss for words when asked if he has a message for young LGBTQ people who are struggling with their sexuality or gender identity. In an exclusive interview with Variety at last month’s Cannes Film Festival, just hours before the world premiere of his long-in-the-works biopic “Rocketman,” John spoke candidly about the [...]

  • Salma Hayek Owen Wilson Bliss

    Salma Hayek, Owen Wilson to Star in Amazon's Sci-Fi Drama 'Bliss'

    Salma Hayek and Owen Wilson have signed on to star in Amazon’s science-fiction drama “Bliss,” with Mike Cahill directing from his own script. Wilson portrays a recently divorced man whose life is falling apart when he meets Hayek’s character, a woman who lives on the streets and is convinced that the polluted, broken world around [...]

  • Donald Glover Beyonce

    Beyoncé and Donald Glover Harmonize in 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight' Ad Preview

    Anyone who’s longed to hear Beyoncé and Donald Glover harmonizing got just enough to further whet the appetite in a first snippet of their version of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” that’s included in a new commercial for Disney’s upcoming “Lion King” remake. The TV spot lasts just 30 seconds, hardly time at all [...]

  • Pride Allies

    The Hollywood Allies Who Helped Protect, Advance the LGBTQ Community This Year

    Strong and proud as it is, the LGBTQ community’s fight for equality needs allies — from loving and accepting families to galvanized colleagues and corporations to the movie star you’ve never met calling for boycotts of a homophobic nation-state. Several of those queer supporters in Hollywood and music used the megaphones of social media, public [...]

  • 'Easy A' Spinoff in the Works

    'Easy A' Spinoff in the Works From Original Screenwriter (EXCLUSIVE)

    Nearly a decade after the success of “Easy A,” a spinoff of the coming-of-age comedy is in the works. Sources tell Variety that Screen Gems has appointed Bert Royal, who penned the first script, to write and direct the upcoming movie. Insiders stress that the film is still in early development, as Royal is still [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content