When spy movies were a big thing back in the 1960s, occasionally someone would try to spoof the genre. This almost never worked, except for the TV series “Get Smart,” which had Mel Brooks as its guiding force.
Maybe the spy satire needs time, because it wasn’t until the “Austin Powers” series, and two “OSS 117” films (starring “The Artist” Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin), that the 1960s spy movie got its proper send-up.
Right in the midst of all that was Johnny English, the British secret agent played by Rowan Atkinson. In “Johnny English” (2003) and “Johnny English Reborn” (2011), Atkinson played a hapless Bond-wannabe who tried to stay relevant during the British Empire’s decline, but could barely stay out of his own way.
Those movies were built around Atkinson (still best known as the accident-prone Mr. Bean), whose willingness to fall out of windows and slide down staircases while clad in a suit of armor remains undiminished in “Johnny English Strikes Again.”
As this sequel begins, Johnny is called out of enforced retirement because Her Majesty’s other secret agents have been outed in a cyberattack. The exasperated Prime Minister (Emma Thompson, enjoying herself) is forced to hire Johnny, and team him up with his old sidekick (Ben Miller) out of sheer desperation.
One of the movie’s funnier ideas is that Johnny returns to the fold with three other retired agents, all played by veteran British actors: Michael Gambon (Professor Dumbledore, of course), Edward Fox, and Charles Dance. Because of Johnny’s ineptitude, all are quickly removed from consideration.
The film has some fun with 007-style gizmos, including an explosive Q-Tip and an energy pill; when our hero ingests the pill, it sets off a furious round of hyperkinetic dancing at a French Riviera club.
I always thought the best part of Atkinson’s performance in these films wasn’t the slapstick but Johnny’s blithe assumption that he was much, much cooler than he really is. This is nicely showcased in his suave scenes with a Russian agent (Olga Kurylenko, who did actual James Bond duty in “Quantum of Solace”).
After talking to this obviously duplicitous spy, he’s convinced she’s completely innocent, despite evidence to the contrary. Atkinson knows how to play stupid, all right.
Except for a few jokes at the expense of England’s image of itself — the cyber-villain, played by Jake Lacy, can’t believe a once-great nation is reduced to employing someone like Johnny English — the comedy is extremely tame and family-friendly. You won’t be embarrassed if you take your kids, but you won’t be remembering this one in years to come, either. If you’re in the right silly mood, that might be enough.
“Johnny English Strikes Again” (2½ stars)
Rowan Atkinson returns for more family-friendly slapstick as Britain’s worst secret agent. This third film in the series is full of mild humor, but it goes down easily enough if you’re in the right silly mood — and Atkinson’s ability to play stupid remains intact. With Olga Kurylenko, Emma Thompson.
Rating: PG for violence
Opening: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Meridian, Thornton Place