Even with the best will in the world, national treasure Rowan Atkinson doesn’t have the comedic strength to keep this titanic failure of an entry into the Johnny English series afloat.
Laden down with clumsy, flat footed dialogue, Atkinson’s supporting cast are dragged to the lower echelons of entertainment; just as my hopes for a worthy successor to the 2003 comedy, that so captured my heart in my formative years, sank after the first forty-five minutes.
The ham-fisted plot begins with a cyber-attack that exposes all MI7s undercover operatives and led Pegasus (Adam James) to dust off an older file, Johnny English’s file. We then see the aging and hapless intelligence operative slap stick his way between exotic locals at the command of the Prime Minister (Emma Thompson). Along with the good old returning sidekick Bough (Ben Miller) – there to help him track the master of cyber-warfare.
The film starts at great pace, mercifully, with English knee deep in his slap-stick assignment within 15 minutes. Yet this regrettably doesn’t last, as the movie quickly starts to feel like it’s outstaying its welcome by quite some margin. While the jokes didn’t decline in quality, and the stunts didn’t become less preposterous, each new attempt at dramatic irony triggered yet another glance at the exit, or the time.
While by no means on top form, Emma Thompson stood out as the only memorable actor, other than Atkinson of course. This is truly a testament to Thompson’s professional ability — or at least to the low bar set by the rest of the film. She was able to deliver the dialogue of her character with the dry wit befitting an English mother in dire need of a “vodka tonic without ice or tonic”.
Though after a while, this begins to cause pangs of longing for the dry and witty character that Rowan Atkinson brought to life in Blackadder — which unlike Johnny English still holds a special place in this one millennial’s heart. It is evidence that Atkinson’s talent can deliver something truly unique and classic when given the opportunity, even if most people now know him as Mr Bean or the ‘Pink Panther’.
A prevailing theme of old vs new is an interesting choice by screen writer William Davies. While it may have been intended to drag Johnny kicking and screaming into the hearts of the modern-day youth, it has an unfortunate side effect. The ‘comedic’ narrative resembles a pensioner in a vicious argument with a self-service checkout; it just doesn’t quite work as smoothly as intended.
The shortcomings of this theme also spread to the main cyber-based villain, who lacks the outrageous nature of Malkovich’s attempt in the first movie (a highlight of the 2003 movie and the actor’s repertoire of hilarious European accents) or any malevolent or malicious impression upon the audience.