I’ve had a rough month or so at the cinema. Venom, The Predator, The House with a Clock in its Walls, Mile 22. All have ranked up there as some of the worst films I’ve seen in cinemas – but believe it or not, there was one that really stuck out as especially joyless. Trust me, all the films I listed above are miserable, but I could salvage some joy from all of them. All of them except Johnny English Strikes Again. When I first sat down to do this review, I didn’t think talking about how bad this film is would be something remotely controversial but with it being the audience choice for a recent Campus Cinema vote and anyone overhearing me talk about it in the street shouting “I love Johnny English mate”, I’ve realised this could be an uphill battle. As anyone who’s seen me at work in a seminar knows though, I’m not afraid to launch a controversial opinion into the mix.
The (so-called) plot is that MI6 has been hacked and all the identities of all the spies have been leaked, so they need to bring in a bunch of old agents who aren’t on the system anymore. Cue Johnny English himself, brought in to work out who hacked the government without them new-fangled gadgets, just the good old-fashioned stuff. Meanwhile, the government is bringing in this tech gazillionaire to help spruce up their digital systems -and no, he’s definitely not the hacker, what are you on about? I think what’s most impressive about the plot is that it makes even the worst of the Bond films seem bearable, and even complex.
“it’s such a disappointment to say he completely phones his work in here”
Maybe the one thing that keeps this film from being the absolute worst thing ever is the cast, and three performers in particular. Emma Thompson, British national treasure, plays the Prime Minister and gets to be the audience surrogate (at least as far as I’m concerned) in that she is constantly completely exasperated about everything that’s happening. She also gets the best line in the film of “Get me a double gin and tonic, no ice, no tonic” which yes, is the comedic threshold we’re dealing with. But more on that later. Ben Miller also returns; apparently he wasn’t in the second one (which shows my memory of the franchise). Anyway, he offers a level of dryness that is missing from the rest of the film, even if he is wasted almost constantly in favour of more poor slapstick. Speaking of, you’re likely interested in the film solely because of Rowan Atkinson – which makes sense. After all, he’s a comedy legend, creating two of the most beloved comedy characters in all of British comedy with Blackadder and Mr Bean. That’s why it’s such a disappointment to say he completely phones his work in here, doing his very best to fall over, pull a silly face occasionally and do literally nothing else where possible. If Atkinson had tried, maybe he could have salvaged the film, but he’s clearly picking up a pay check here and nothing else.
All of that would be okay, or at least slightly forgivable, if the film (a comedy, if you need reminding) was even slightly funny. Unfortunately, it’s dire beyond belief. Most of the gags are unfathomably simple slapstick gags. For example, Rowan Atkinson hits his head on a bit of a submarine. Or, maybe try Rowan Atkinson falls down a set of stairs. The most elaborate gag is perhaps the funniest in that it’s comically dated, in which Rowan Atkinson takes a bunch of caffeine pills and starts dancing to the song Sandstorm by Darude. Me explaining that joke is much funnier than the joke itself because they play most of the song and God does it drag and still it’s the funniest thing in the film. Other than the green-screen, which, even as a veteran of bad cinema, is some of the worst I’ve ever seen.
“What isn’t good is Johnny English Strikes Again”
I’ll stop here, not just because I’m coming up on the word count but also because you probably know if this film is for you or not. Either you’ve enjoyed reading me tear into it, or you saw me start to bad mouth the Johnny English franchise and didn’t make it this far – which means only the first group are left. You’re a very good looking group. What isn’t good is Johnny English Strikes Again. Don’t watch it. Burn all copies of it you find. Destroy them. Please. Just don’t send them to me.