Rowan Atkinson’s bumbling spy character Johnny English has always existed in a weird middle ground between the acerbic wit of his Edmund Blackadder and the childlike charms of his Mr. Bean — and in his third outing, “Johnny English Strikes Again,” that territory feels played out.
There are laughs to be had here and there, particularly in the opening that shows Johnny in his current surroundings: As a geography teacher in an English boarding school, giving lessons in camouflage, bear traps, martini mixing and the other skills of the spy trade from which he has retired.
Then comes word that MI7 has been the victim of a cyber attack, with its files hacked and every current undercover agent exposed. The only choice for MI7 is to bring ex-agents out of retirement, which means English is back in the game.
It’s not so easy, as English must get acclimated to a new MI7, one with fewer gadget-laden weapons and more hybrid cars. But with his trusty sidekick Bough (Ben Miller) and his reliable Aston-Martin, English is on his way to the French Riviera to follow a lead involving a yacht. That’s where English meets mysterious Ophelia (played by “Quantum of Solace” Bond girl Olga Kurylenko).
Meanwhile, the none-too-bright Prime Minister, played by Emma Thompson, is nervous that these cyber attacks will derail her upcoming G-12 summit. She’s so worried that she’s willing to strike a hasty deal with Jason Volta (Jake Lacy), a charismatic tech billionaire who’s somewhere between Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.
Director David Kerr, a TV veteran making his feature-film debut, and screenwriter William Davies set Atkinson up for some elaborate set pieces. But more often than not, even with Atkinson’s rubber-faced moves, there’s something amiss and the laughs just aren’t there.
The biggest misfire is Thompson, seemingly spoofing the real Prime Minister, Theresa May, as a dithering and slightly man-hungry leader. Thompson — who worked with Atkinson on her 1989 break-out role in “The Tall Guy” — has one good rant to deliver, and she nails it, but it falls short of salvaging the slow-moving mess.
‘Johnny English Strikes Again’
Opens Friday, October 26, in theaters everywhere. Rated PG for some action violence, rude humor, language and brief nudity. Running time: 88 minutes.