[Screen It]


(2018) (Rowan Atkinson, Olga Kurylenko) (PG)

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Comedy: A bumbling and retired British agent returns to active duty as he tries to figure out who's exposed all other agents, continues to hack other systems, and is threatening to bring down the Internet.
A hacker has just exposed all of Britain's MI7 intelligence agents, prompting the Prime Minister (EMMA THOMPSON) to order retired ones back to active duty to find out who's responsible. Only four are available, and when the bumbling Johnny English (ROWAN ATKINSON) accidentally incapacitates the others, he's the only agent left for the job. Reunited with his former assistant, Jeremy Bough (BEN MILLER), he makes sure to stay off "the grid" and works undercover to find out who's responsible, all while the Prime Minister attempts to court Silicon Valley tech billionaire Jason Volta (JAKE LACY) to help at an upcoming G12 meeting.

English and Bough begin their investigation in the south of France where they run into a Russian operative, Ophelia (OLGA KURYLENKO), onboard a super yacht that just so happens to be owned by Volta. From that point on, and despite English's bumbling ways, they try to get to the bottom of who's responsible for the continued hacking and try to stop them before they bring down the entire Internet.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
A common question heard among critics at press screenings right before a film begins is what the running time is. Granted, a film's length usually has no direct correlation to its quality or simple ability to entertain, even if just in pure escapism mode. But when you just have a feeling that the next offering isn't going to be stellar or maybe even mediocre, it's always a good thing to hear it clocks in at less than ninety minutes.

And that's because, well, you can endure pretty much anything for that amount of time, and considering the end credits are included in that count, you might be released from any sort of potential cinematic torment somewhere in the low eighties of minutes.

A question heard after press screenings is the studio publicist asking for your reaction immediately upon having just seen the film. Walking out of "Johnny English Strikes Again" -- the third entry in the James Bond spoof series -- I told the folks running the show that it felt 88 minutes too long. Now that might seem like an odd and fairly precise number, but it was the answer to the first question asked before the lights dimmed.

To be transparent, I didn't see the second entry -- 2011's "Johnny English Reborn" -- but did watch and review the original 2003 flick and wasn't terribly impressed. And that was especially true with it coming on the heels of the far more imaginative and entertaining "Austin Powers" movies that likewise spoofed all things 007 related.

Beyond that, I have no memory of what transpired in the film, which is somewhat understandable considering it's been fifteen years since I last saw it. The funny (or sad) thing is until I just glanced through my notes I had the same lack of mental recollection for this offering despite having just seen it a few days ago. And that's because it's completely unremarkable, not particularly funny (unless you just can't enough of Rowan Atkinson doing his usual bumbling buffoon shtick) and, apparently, instantly forgettable.

As directed by David Kerr from a script by William Davies, the film's premise is that all of Britain's active duty spies (working for MI7) have had their identities compromised by a hacker who's not done wreaking havoc on London. Accordingly, the Prime Minister (Emma Thompson, working far below her abilities) orders that retired ones be called back to active duty to deal with the problem.

Four show up (including the likes of those played by Michael Gambon, Charles Dance, and Edward Fox), but only one, our unlikely hero, walks out with the job due to inadvertently incapacitating the others. Paired with his former sidekick (Ben Miller), he sets off to fix the situation, runs afoul of a beautiful counterspy (Olga Kurylenko) and eventually must deal with the main villain (Jake Lacy) before that man hacks everything back to the equivalent of the horse-drawn carriage days.

All of that's a simple skeletal structure upon which allows Atkinson -- back again playing the title character -- to do his bumbling, fumbling and more antics. The problem is that unless you think the actor is a cinematic comedy genius, none of them are funny. And even the one with the only real potential -- where English is outfitted with a VR headset and ends up going throughout London while thinking he's still just standing in a room -- bungles the comedic possibilities.

All of which makes one wonder why it's being released in the U.S. in the first place (unlikely internationally where people inexplicably see these films in droves). The original one only grossed $28 million, while its sequel had the box office bottom fall out to the tune of just $8 million at the domestic coffers. There's nothing here to suggest Atkinson is suddenly a draw, and I imagine most reviewers will agree with my assessment that there's nothing to see -- or remember -- here. But at least it's only 88 minutes...too long. "Johnny English Strikes Again" strikes out and rates as only a very generous 3 out of 10.

Reviewed October 17, 2018 / Posted October 26, 2018

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