'Johnny English' sequel is an ode to low-tech charm
There's nothing really new or fresh or bold in "Johnny English Strikes Again," the third installment of Rowan Atkinson's bumbling-spy saga/James Bond spoof.
And for some of us, maybe that's not such a terrible thing. Sometimes you don't want the hip new cocktail. Sometimes you just want the same beer at the same temperature at the same time in the same comfy chair. (Especially these days, perhaps, but we digress.)
So when Atkinson's Johnny, on the run in a Scottish castle, winds up in a room of decorative suits of armor, you start chuckling preemptively. Because of course you know he's going to hide in one of those suits, and of course you know he's going to have a massively difficult time staying upright, and, well ... it'll be funny. Not innovative or thought-provoking, and certainly not snarky or biting. Just funny.
If that's not enough, we also have Emma Thompson as the British prime minister. Thompson as anything at all would be a plus, but watching her channel her inner Maggie Thatcher — and mix in a little Theresa May — may have you immediately bemoaning the fact she only got to play a prime minister's SISTER in "Love Actually." What a waste!
In any case, we begin a week before the PM is to host a crucial G12 summit in Scotland. Things are not going well. A major security breach at MI17 exposes the identity of every British secret agent. To replace them, they call in aging former agents. Enter Johnny, who's been spending his days teaching schoolkids the essentials of Bondian spycraft (seduction via martini, for example).
He's a fish out of water. In a high-tech world, he's lower than low-tech; he's no-tech. He rejects even a smartphone. All he wants is a gun, and a dusty old Aston Martin to drive. He's joined in this venture by his erstwhile partner from the first movie in 2003, loyal sidekick Bough (a pleasant Ben Miller.)
But, you ask, who's the villain? Well, that would be technology itself, in the form of a (truly annoying) Silicon Valley billionaire smartypants — you know the type — named Jason Volta (Jake Lacy, in a one-dimensional role). Jason has completely charmed the tech-challenged prime minister, who is unaware of his sinister hidden goals.
But he can't track an enemy who has no digital footprint. At least that's Johnny's theory. He's untraceable, but he also can't make a phone call. His low-tech strategy extends to everything: He has a mixtape on a cassette! His spy gadget works with a floppy disc! It's unclear if kids in the audience will know what these things are.
But they likely will crack up when Johnny tests out a virtual reality headset and ends up wandering into streets and stores and attacking people randomly. They'll also laugh, as will most anyone, when Johnny takes an energy pill instead of a sleeping pill and hits the dance floor for an entire night, posing and preening as only Atkinson, still agile at 63, can.
Sure, the scene is telegraphed about an hour ahead of time. But that doesn't mean it's not entertaining. At these moments, director David Kerr does the logical thing, which is to just get out of the way and let Atkinson perform.
The finale comes at that Scottish castle at Loch Ness, where smarmy Jason makes his intentions known — they're rather confusing, actually, but they definitely involve the internet — and it's up to no-tech Johnny to save the day.
You may forget the barely serviceable plot on the way out of the theater. But you'll likely remember when Atkinson gets a cocktail umbrella stuck in his nose, while trying to woo gorgeous — and dramatically named — Ophelia (Olga Kurylenko), an enemy agent. Or when he's trying to defy gravity in that darned suit of armor.
It's not complicated. But there are worse things in life than 88 minutes of uncomplicated chuckling.
"Johnny English Strikes Again," a Focus Features release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America "for some action violence, rude humor, language and brief nudity." Running time: 88 minutes. Two stars out of four.
MPAA definition of PG: Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.