Johnny English Strikes Out: A 'Johnny English Strikes Again' film review
by Will Lindus
The opening scene of Vin Diesel’s 2002 spy flick xXx follows a James Bond-ish super spy infiltrating a party, only to tragically find out that tuxedos and high society etiquette are no longer valid tools in the modern age. The latest slate of 007 films agree with this point, with the latest James Bond supplementing his charm with newly found grit, just as capable of winning a back alley street fight as he is of ordering the proper cocktail for any social setting. Look to the Mission: Impossible franchise to see a variation on this point echoed, with Ethan Hunt and his team utilizing technology that borders on wizardry and death defying stunts to save the day, always in the nick of time.
Sorry, Vin. Sorry, Daniel Craig and sorry, Tom Cruise. Johnny English longs for the good ol’ days.
Johnny English Strikes Again is the third installment of the James Bond parody franchise starring Rowan Atkinson as the titular Johnny English. It follows a bumbling but cocksure former British super spy whose MI7 status is reinstated after a hacker uncovers the identities of every active British intelligence agent. As the mysterious hacker begins taking control of British electronic control systems, wreaking havoc on traffic lights, train scheduling, and airplane routing, Johnny strikes out on a mission to save the day while also attempting to prove that new technologies are no match for analog gadgets, charisma, and decorum.
Aiding him on this mission is his partner Bough (Ben Miller), a somewhat more capable operative who serves at the straight man to English’s antics, with enough common sense to see a bad situation coming but lacking the confidence to reign in English’s eccentricity. Bough serves as a Sancho to English’s Quixotic tendencies, but instead of dueling windmills, Johnny finds himself ignoring sound advice and modern technological advancements so that he can proceed with the mission on his own terms.
The problem is that the themes, and they way they are realized in narrative, are very muddy. At times, Johnny comes across as almost too idiotic to function, while at others, he demonstrates a spark of (misguided) know-how. His skillset seems inconsistent scene to scene. At times, he’s Inspector Gadget, luck rolling his way through scenarios oblivious to the remarkably strokes of fortune that allow him to stand victorious. At other moments, he demonstrates actual prowess, and the comedy of the situation is meant to come from some external factor interfering with his tactics.
Further, the film itself struggles with how to represent its stance on technologies. In one scene, English claims a classic Aston Martin as his mode of transportation, loudly claiming to his fellow spies that its lack of onboard technologies make it a superior stealth vehicle to the computerized hybrid cars that were also available. The punchline of this scenario is that a cherry red Aston Martin sticks out like a sore thumb, and this would have been fitting joke enough. However, a later scene tries to double down on this joke by pitting English in a car chase up a winding mountain road in pursuit of another hybrid car. Johnny is a crack driver, handling turns with ease, but his downfall comes from forgetting to refuel the car previously. This type of blunder does nothing to service the technology vs. analog themes of the film, which wouldn’t be a problem if those themes weren’t otherwise so on-the-nose.
None of that would really matter, though, if the film were funny. A comedy can get by with a lot of hand waving if the laughs are aplenty, but unfortunately, the script of Johnny English Strikes Again is dim and lifeless. Sure, there are a few well-delivered jokes - especially the ones that almost veer into ‘that’s fucked up’ territory. There aren’t enough of these, however, with most of the attempts at humor coming from the absurdity of Atkinson’s schtick and his zany physicality. I wanted to Brexit the theater 20 minutes in to this one-note slog that felt every excruciating minute of its 88 minute run time.
Bottom Line: Obviously, I can’t recommend Johnny English Strikes Again based on my own experiences with the film. It’s simply neither funny nor witty enough. However, the Johnny English franchise of films have never been particularly successful in the United States. The first film, Johnny English, made 28 million of its 160 million dollar haul in the US, and the sequel, Johnny English Reborn, only pulled 8 million of its 160 million worldwide gross stateside. There is obviously an overseas audience for these films, as they routinely make quadruple their production budget back in ticket sales. I’m just not that target audience.
1.5 out of 5 Bear Paws