There is no doubting that Roman Atkinson is a comedy genius. His talent is plain for all to see and to be able to survive, and often surprise, in the field for forty years is a testament to the dedication he shows to his craft. It’s such that a pity that a film like the new Johnny English movie fails to capitalise on his talents.
MI7 has been hacked and all the secret identities of its agents have been revealed rendering them useless to the government. The hacks continue in a number of other ways making life difficult for the Prime minister (Emma Thompson) as she seeks to introduce a new cyber security law. The source of the troubles needs to be found but with no active agents of use the British government is forced to turn to former agents. Johnny English, now a history teacher with a side line in spy-craft, is the only real choice after he accidentally eliminates all other candidates at the interview. So, English and his sidekick (Ben Miller) are back on the job that takes them to the South of France in search of the source of the hack.
On paper this seemed like a good idea. The previous two Johnny English adventures had been very successful if not a hit with the critics. They found their market and there was a pretty good variety of comic set pieces that showcased Atkinson’s talent to best effect. What made them so attractive to audiences were that they were fresh and the subject matter was ripe for lampooning. This instalment is sadly lacking compared to the others in that it isn’t very funny.
For the film to work there needs to be a consistency in the staging of the set pieces. There are two scenes in particular that have issues, the least of which is the over familiarity due to them having been well used in promoting the film. Part of the fun and the humour in films like this come from the surprise factor. Physical comedy pretty much relies on it. With the VR scene in particular, so much of has been seen thus taking away the surprise at the way it flows. It feels very familiar and a bit flat because of that.
It is in the story that the film ultimately fails. It is fairly obvious that one or two set pieces were developed early on and the rest of the film was constructed around them. So, the connective tissue doesn’t feel to be appropriate and leaves the movie somewhat disjointed. Of course, the story needn’t have to be strong but when it isn’t it tends to highlight the flaws in other areas.
You can’t fault the cast though. Atkinson totally commits to the part despite the obvious shortcomings of the film. His skills as a physical performer have not diminished over time. The best of the on screen comedy comes from the reaction to a gag or situation of which he is a master. As well as Atkinson, everyone gives it there all. Emma Thompson as the harangued Prime minister is superb. This could have been a bit of a nothing role but she is totally up for it and, as usual, elevates the proceedings with just her presence on screen.
It has to be said that signing up Olga Kurylenko as the nemesis to Johnny was a bit of a masterstroke. With her connection to the Bond franchise and her undoubted comic timing she is possibly the best thing about the movie. She plays the part in a very knowing way. There is no doubt that she is playing it for laughs and she comes across very well, despite some of the aforementioned weak set ups.
Johnny English Strikes Again is one of those movies that is pretty much critic proof. It doesn’t matter what is written about it, there is an audience waiting to lap it up.