Get Ready to Laugh, as 'Johnny English Strikes Again'
Ready for No. 3? First there was ‘Johnny English’ in 2003, then ‘Johnny English Reborn’ in 2011. This month, the British spy strikes again. And not a moment too soon. In a film season rife with drugs, dementia and dissolution, the country needs some comic relief. Who better than Johnny English, played exquisitely by Rowan Atkinson?
English is retired. Yes, he went to teach geography. But he was not teaching so much as scouting for potential operatives. He instructs his charges to camouflage themselves and to toast with martinis. Then, as luck and the plot would have it, a cyber attack hits Britain, wiping out agents of MI7. Only a few other retirees are left -- played in cameo by acting greats Charles Dance, Edward Fox and Michael Gambon.
Then, oops! Only Johnny English is available, so he is assigned to find out who is behind the cyber attack. He grabs his wingman, Bough, played to perfection by Ben Miller, then drives off in a bright red car to be “inconspicuous.” He eschews all modern spy devices like smartphones -- leaning instead on pay phones, his wits and wiles.
And we’re off.
English and Bough encounter a Russian agent, played by Olga Kurylenko, recently seen in ‘The Death of Stalin.’ Then there’s the American cyber hotshot, played by Jake Lacy (‘Obvious Child’). But the best on-screen partner for Atkinson is Emma Thompson, a great actress, a fine writer and a comedian with chops (have you seen her early work?). She brings to the role of the prime minister all the frisson, fashion and fecklessness the character needs.
But the film belongs to Rowan Atkinson. That face, those eyes, that agile little body. David Kerr’s crafty direction wisely moves fire and explosions offstage or into the background. William Davies’ screenplay, heavy on the rhetorical figures of litotes and hyperbole, offers knights in rusty armor (hint: the spy is in the mail).
‘Johnny English Strikes Again’ could not be striking at a better time. Be prepared to laugh.