Now, I know what you’re thinkin’. Who’s Johnny English? He’s that little known Rowan Atkinson character from his 2003 & 2011 movies that nobody remembers. Apparently it made a ton of money in England to warrant a threequel. Like a British Maxwell Smart, he’s an inept MI-7 super-spy that bungles his way into getting the job done.
Oh no! British Intelligence is under a cyber attack and all their top field agents have been compromised as a result. The flustered Prime Minister (Emma Thompson–having way too much fun here) has no choice but to order the only agent who’s off the grid and semi-retired–Johnny English (Atkinson). English has been busy teaching Geography to elementary kids, but also secretly teaching them spy tactics (night time recon, camouflage, zip lining). Once called up, he’s eager to get back to work as the top spy he thinks really he is.
He immediately recalls his older (and smarter) partner, Bough (Ben Miller) and grabs a car, a beautiful red Aston Martin DB7. Their mission? Locate whoever is causing the cyber attacks and stop them. Naturally, this wouldn’t be a Johnny English movie without the bungling spy doing what he does best; causing accidental destruction and mayhem in his wake as he searches for clues. After nearly burning down a French chateau, they learn about the super luxury yacht, the Dot Calm, which contains not only all the computer servers that caused the attack, but a Russian spy as well.
Her name is Ophelia (Olga Kurylenko) and, after dealing with English, gets orders to kill him. . .but she just can’t. Mainly because he does things so dumb and unexpected, she never gets a chance. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has made a deal with the devil, and his name is Jason Volta (Jake Lacy), a slick & smarmy Silicon Valley tech billionaire who easily helps out the Brit’s with their cyber prob’s. Hmmm… could it be that HE caused them in the first place?
After more and more shenanigans with English (the ‘virtual reality’ bit is my favorite), he and Bough find out that Volta is behind all the attacks, AND that Ophelia is on their side as well. But after his deductions are tainted by his recklessness, English is summarily fired. Will English rebound and save the day by act three? Will Volta launch a cyber attack of epic proportions? And will this movie actually rip-off the driving instructor scene from The Naked Gun movie?
Screenwriter William Davies, who wrote the last Johnny English movie (Johnny English Reborn), knows gags, but he also doesn’t know the fundamental rule of comedy: never telegraph your joke! You know practically every joke, gag, or comedic bit before it happens. Example: English says, “These Aston Martin’s are surprisingly good on gas mileage”. The next scene, the car runs out of gas. And it’s like this throughout the entire movie! Geez, let us have SOME mystery, okay Davies? But I will admit, quite a bit of the humor got to me. Why? Two words: Rowan Atkinson.
Atkinson is probably one of the last remaining physical comedians left in the world. In the same vein as Chaplin, Keaton, or Lewis, Atkinson’s rubber face and body do schtick, slapstick, and ridiculous sophomoric humor that still gets a chuckle. Anyone who’s ever seen his old BBC-TV series, Mr. Bean, knows what I mean, and his transition into the ‘talkies’ was perfect.
And you gotta hand to director David Kerr, making his theatrical debut here. Normally a BBC-TV series director, he really shows a deft hand for the comedy style, which is so important for an Atkinson movie of this type. Yes, this movie is dumb, with huge plot holes and lapses in judgement, but it’s meant to be pure archaic nonsense which, in this case, it achieves it.
Steele is talked out of retirement by his old spy pal, Steve Bishop (Robert Guillaume) and the Director (Charles Durning) to go after Rancor again and save the daughter of his old partner. Steele also encounters his old work chum, Norm Coleman (Barry Bostwick) who keeps flirting with the Director’s secretary, Miss Cheevus (Marcia Gay Hayden). Steele partners up with the mysterious KGB spy, Veronique Ukrinsky, (aka Agent 3.14–played by Nicholette Sheridan).
Anyway, while investigating, Steele runs into a bunch of looney people on his way to find Rancor: Agent Kabul (John Ales) who always gives Steele a ride in a never-ending variety of weird cars, a kid named McLucky (Mason Gamble) who riffs on the Home Alone kid, and a dangerous hooker (Talisa Soto) who tries to kill Steele without success. FINALLY Steele finds the remote fortress lair of Rancor and a really idiotic third act fight commences.
Four writers came up with this exhausting piece of garbage: director Rick Friedberg (only TV shows like CSI: Miami), and newbies Dick Chudnow, and Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer (Meet the Spartans). They TRIED to be as funny as the Zucker Bros (Airplane! The Naked Gun franchise), even shamelessly recycling and ripping-off their jokes & sight gags, but without the success. This was Friedberg’s first and last theatrical directorship, and you can see why. This movie is just plain awful in quality, in filming, in just about everything.
Despite a plethora of quality actors and a bunch of cameos (Ray Charles as a bus driver), it was clear that the script sucked SO bad, the actors didn’t even care. . .and it showed on screen. Nielsen, by this time, had done his “character” for so long it wasn’t funny or original anymore. He was already known by his Lt. Frank Drebin of Police Squad/The Naked Gun TV series & movies for years. Much better “goofy” spy movies were already out there (Get Smart, Spies Like Us, the Austin Powers franchise) and this one was just a sad, pale imitation. The only funny bit is the opening musical parody of The Spy Who Loved Me by Weird Al Yankovic.