By Leslie C. Halpern
In a spoof of the James Bond film Skyfall (2012), this third installment of the Johnny English franchise brings back retired secret agent, Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson), after a mysterious cyber-attack exposes all currently employed undercover British agents working for M17.
English has been working at a private school as a geography teacher while simultaneously training his young students as junior spies using his questionable skills and knowledge. Against her better judgment, the Prime Minister (Emma Thompson) enlists English to find out who launched the attack and restore order back to London, which is in complete chaos. An old-fashioned technophobe, English finds his former partner, Bough (Ben Miller) who’s slightly more tech-savvy, and plans his mission to locate and neutralize the mastermind.
A Billionaire Computer Genius
Dismissing high-tech weaponry, state-of-the-art vehicles, and new communication devices, English selects a basic gun and an Aston Martin. Not able to operate a cell phone, he stops at hard-to-find pay phones along the road to make calls. Much of the humor is based on his analogue sensibilities pitted against modern-day machinery. The villainous Jason Volta (Jake Lacy), a young billionaire computer genius with celebrity status, naturally wants to take over the world by manipulating its technology.
English’s physicality (especially delightful in an extended virtual reality scene) likewise competes against Volta’s intellect. There’s also a wild card among these two mismatched rivals: Volta’s Russian girlfriend (Olga Kurylenko [a former Bond girl in Quantum of Solace]) isn’t exactly who she pretends to be. Curiously, she’s better with weapons and more physically fit than English, and seemingly more intelligent – at least in terms of common sense and survival skills – than Volta.
Rowan Atkinson’s Physical Comedy
The laughs are few, but the chuckles are many. Atkinson delivers some memorable comedic scenes during a carjacking, while at a nightclub dancing, and hiding inside a coat of armor. The script (by screenwriter William Davies) is humorous, but Atkinson’s physical comedy and interactions with Miller offer the film’s greatest highlights. Lacy’s villain is as generic as Kurylenko is exotic.
It’s fun to watch some of the creative set-ups for future gags. Rather than random non-sequiturs, much of the humor relies on callbacks from people, places, and things mentioned in the movie. Bond aficionados may enjoy the many references to Skyfall, and of James Bond films in general.
Johnny English Strikes Again
- A dim-witted technophobic former British spy is brought back from retirement after a cyber-attack reveals the identities of all current undercover British agents working for M17.
- Stars: Rowan Atkinson, Emma Thompson, Ben Miller, Olga Kurylenko, Jake Lacy
- Director: David Kerr
- Genre: Action Comedy
- Run Time: 88 minutes
- MPAA Rating: PG (for action violence, rude humor, language, and brief rear nudity)
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Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.