Sunday, 20 March 2011

Jackboots on Whitehall: Plastic Nazis Just Aren't Funny

The trailer makes this look better than it is.

Okay, so I’d heard some good things about this British World War 2 puppet movie.

Sadly they were almost all lies.

Oh dear…

Jackboots on Whitehall is a low budget British 'satire' about the fight-back after a successful Nazi invasion of Great Britain in 1940. The movie is filmed in Panzervision (just one of many such ‘hilarious’ wordplays to follow) and features barely articulated dolls of the Action Man and Barbie style filmed on miniature sets. Bizarrely this film boasts a top-notch voice cast featuring Ewan McGregor, Alan Cumming, Dominic West, Timothy Spall, Tom Wilkinson, Rosamund Pike, Steven Merchant, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Richard Griffiths and Richard O’Brien amongst others. And how the hell did THAT happen?

The basic plot sees big-handed foundling farmboy Chris (McGregor) set off for London with a rag tag bunch of Kent yokels to save Winston Churchill (Spall) from a Nazi force which has just tunnelled its way up in to London. Saving the PM in the nick of time, Chris, his hoped-for girlfriend Daisy (Pike) along with brash and gung-ho American pilot Fisk (West), brave Rupee (Bhaskar) and his bunch of Indian soldiers (don’t ask) make a dash for Scotland for a last stand at Hadrian’s Wall. In this universe Scotland is a ghostly land of unknown terrors where people fear to go – even Nazis – and is home to a mythical and bloodthirsty army of warriors. Arriving in Scotland, the small band prepare a defence at Hadrian’s Wall, while Chris is sent off in to the misty wilderness to find the mythical Scots army to try and get their help in defeating the coming Nazis. Can Chris find and convince the bloodthirsty Scots to help in time to save Churchill and his rag tag army at Hadrian’s Wall? Will Chris find out the truth about his origins and why he has such big hands? Will he get to be with his true love Daisy over the opposition of her bigoted vicar father? Will I laugh more than twice when watching this silly, amateurish mess? That would be yes, yes, yes and no.

Look, I can cope with the crappy doll design and the cheap production values - it adds a certain ‘made in your bedroom’ charm to it all. Kinda like the old Adam and Joe show. The voice cast too is bizarrely impressive. But the two big problems here are: 1) the script is shit, and 2) the directors (Edward and Rory McHenry who are also the writers) clearly have no real idea what they are doing. The film feels like a mishmash of daft ideas that were put together as they were going along – like a couple of young kids just arsing around with their toys and a camera over many a weekend. Unlike the vastly superior Team America (an obvious inspiration) the satire here is not in anyway sharp, focussed or meaningful. So without any decent satire what we get left with is loads of silly wordplay and unfunny homages to/spoofs of movies like The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Zulu, Independence Day and Braveheart with pot shots at Mel Gibson about fifteen years out of date (there are much better ones to be had nowadays). Plus we get plenty of witless and deeply unfunny playground stereotypes (the Nazi’s arrive in London and the first thing they do is reorganise the London Underground to make it more efficient; King George protests to the Germans that he’s actually one of them; the Frenchman shags every woman in sight). There’s also loads of swearing and plenty of over the top violence on show, which, give ‘em their dues, are the two things that work best in the film. They constituted the only two moments I actually remember laughing while watching it. Sad but true.

Basically Jackboots on Whitehall is a poorly made and messy melding of the likes of Team America, Dad’s Army, Alo Alo, Carry On films, and those godawful Date Movie/Meet the Spartans type spoofs. Although, to be fair, it never ever gets as bad as those vile abortions as the sheer childish amateurish enthusiasm of the writers/directors does come through, providing a certain shoddy charm to it all. Oh, and it also has the sight of Hitler in a dress – Queen Elizabeth the First’s dress no less. Not funny, but odd enough to make a small mark on my brain. But the following two burning questions still remain to be answered: 1) how the hell did this ever get funding, and 2) how on earth did they ever get the voice cast that they got? Was there a major drought of acting work in Britain that week?
(1.5/out of 5)

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