It always frustrates me to no end, some people's insistence on making films that are apparently. to coin the tired phrase, 'so bad, it's brilliant,' when in reality they're simply just bad. Unfortunately for débutante directors Edward and Rory McHenry, Jackboots on Whitehall certainly falls into that latter category.
Set in an alternate reality of World War II, the film tells the tale of the occupants of a small rural village, which could well pass for the inhabitants of The Archers, as they try and take back a now Nazi-occupied England starting with the defence of Hadrian's Wall - with the help from the last remaining Gurka unit in England, a volunteer American, a mysterious Frenchman, Winston Churchill and a bunch of angry Scots.
Admittedly on paper it had potential to be a lot of fun and oh do I love a good World War II film, from serious pieces such as A Bridge Too Far and Saving Private Ryan to more light hearted features such as Kelly's Heroes and Inglourious Basterds. Unfortunately with Jackboots on Whitehall, the writers seemingly must have spent too much time trying to rip off every film they had watched the weekend the script was conceived, than trying to carve out a genuinely hysterical satire piece which could have been a laugh a minute if delivered with much more panache.
Borrowing obvious cues from Matt Stone and Trey Parker's modern classic, Team America, for its unique animation style, the film then goes on to reference countless other films such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Gladiator and most notably Braveheart - even poking mild fun at its central character famously played by Mel Gibson.
The film was also guilty at times for typically bowing to the odd perceived stereotype which has become monotonous and, for lack of a better word, horrid in recent times. However if you insist on doing it, you might as well be funny about it - which for the most part this wasn't. The English had their bad teeth, sat in the village pub and generally were all very Tally-ho about the whole affair. The American was ignorant, crude and just plain obnoxious. The Frenchman was inaudible, yet suave, managing to seduce whatever ladies came his way. The Scots were ginger, angry, alcoholics apparently still living in some mysterious dark age. Then of course the Germans were all zombified psychopaths with a fetish for S&M. We've all seen it time and time again, and unfortunately in much funnier contexts. Only thing missing was an ensemble of drunk Leprechauns accusing the Nazis of stealing their pots of gold...
And all this is a genuine shame, because the young directors must have went to amazing lengths to attract the stellar British cast which featured in the movie. Such heavyweights as Ewan McGregor, Dominic West, Rosamund Pike, Richard E Grant, Timothy Spall (his first of two Churchill portrayals in the coming months), Stephen Merchant, Tom Wilkinson, Alan Cumming, hell even Richard O'Brian was brought back from the depths of The Crystal Maze to appear in this. Shamefully it just wasn't enough to save the film from some horrendously bland jokes and equally piss poor story-telling.
Perhaps I am taking the whole thing a bit too seriously, and yes I admit, I find it really hard to find a comedy film which makes me genuinely laugh uncontrollably. Less critical souls might appreciate spending 90 minutes turning the brain off and letting this absurd insanity unfold on screen, but alas I can not on this occasion. Winston Churchill: The Hollywood Years made me laugh more than this, and lord knows that's damning criticism if I ever heard it.
A star-studded British cast cannot save Jackboots on Whitehall from being a mostly bland, predictable, uninspiring World War II satire, playing on cultural stereotypes which stopped being funny 20 years ago. While it is commendable for being the first film to use solely animatronic puppets on-screen, one thinks that's all it'll be remembered for in the years to come.
See This If You Liked...
Team America, Winston Churchill: The Hollywood Years, Braveheart
Jackboots on Whitehall is showing in selected cinemas across the UK now. Belfast visitors will be able to see the film in the Queen's Film Theatre from Friday October 29th, 2010.