There’s enough old-fashioned slapstick in Johnny English Strikes Again to elicit a chuckle or two, but this secret agent is well past it.
Johnny English Strikes Again is the third film in a series of espionage spoofs designed to answer the question of what might happen if Mr Bean was a secret agent. The results have always been predictable, and never more so than they are here, where the titular agent (played by the distinct, rubbery face of Rowan Atkinson) attempts to foil a cyber-terrorism plot orchestrated by Jake Lacy’s smug Silicon Valley billionaire.
The joke here is that Johnny is a useless, bumbling idiot, but the films have never been able to fully commit to that idea because they also need to function as spy stories. Johnny English Strikes Again combines the hero’s imbecilic blundering with his befuddlement over modern technology and the fussy, safety-first watering-down of traditional spying. There’s a moderately funny bit in which Johnny reports to the fresh-faced quartermaster for his gear and has to be informed of the dangers of firearms before he’s allowed to take one.
There are a handful of those moderately funny bits. There’s one in which Johnny impersonates a French waiter and another in which he assaults a baker with a pair of baguettes while wearing a virtual-reality headset. Atkinson still has the timing and face to pull off sequences like those, even if there aren’t nearly enough of them, and the ones that are present feel transplanted from a different era.
It’s all very mild and laidback, so a fair helping of people will enjoy it, even though it isn’t very good. And why shouldn’t they? Emma Thompson is a laugh as the Prime Minister, Ben Miller is entertaining enough as Johnny’s suffering sidekick Bough, and Olga Kurylenko performs her usual leggy stunner routine as a Russian spy whom Johnny is convinced has been seduced by his debonair charms. The mocking of Bondian tropes has been done before and done much better, but seeing as we’re waiting a while for the next real outing of Britain’s favourite super-spy, Johnny English Strikes Again serves as an inoffensive – if unsatisfying – diversion.