Rowan Atkinson is back as the bumbling MI7 spy resistant to newfangled ways in a movie that only has enough funny material for a very short film. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.
If you, like me, find yourself wondering this week about how the hell this whole Johnny English thing got started, hie yourself to YouTube and search for “Johnny English Barclaycard.” You’ll be charmed to discover a 1990s series of British television ads for a credit card, with Rowan Atkinson as a bumbling MI7 spy resistant to newfangled ways — and, inevitably, screwing things up. Each is a perfect little story, and each is 60 seconds long.
Unfortunately, “Johnny English Strikes Again’ — the third film in the franchise, which began in 2003 and continued in 2011 — is about 88 times longer than that, and therein lies its problem. There’s enough funny stuff here to make a hilarious very short film: a yacht named Dot Calm; Emma Thompson as a rage-y, working-her-last-nerve Prime Minister; the pseudonym “Basil Golightly”; the sight of Atkinson trying to suavely sip a drink and getting a cocktail parasol stuck in his nose; a truly spectacular background pratfall involving an olive.
But in between all of these delights is an awful lot of filler, in service to a tired plot (haven’t we seen enough James Bond spoofs already?) involving a cyberattack threatening the U.K. All of MI7’s competent agents (we see several of the most senior ones — you’ll recognize them — in a funny early scene) are dead or otherwise unavailable, so English is called up, with his faithful assistant Bough (Ben Miller) at his side. Off he bumbles, an analog chap in a digital age, and after much eyebrow-raising (which, for the record, nobody does better than Atkinson; they’re like bushy window blinds) and faffing about, the world gets saved. Pity it couldn’t have happened a little quicker.
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★★ “Johnny English Strikes Again,” with Rowan Atkinson, Emma Thompson, Ben Miller, Olga Kurylenko, Jake Lacy. Directed by David Kerr, from a screenplay by William Davies. 88 minutes. Rated PG for action violence, rude humor, language and brief nudity. Opens Oct. 26 at multiple theaters.