“Jackboots on Whitehall” is an animated alternate history of World War II about the Nazi invasion of England. The film’s characters are all animatronic puppets and are voiced by many of Britain’s biggest actors with Ewan McGregor, Timothy Spall and Richard E. Grant among them. It has been referred to as the British “Team America” with, sadly, all that that implies.
At the film’s opening, the evacuation of Dunkirk has left the British Army stranded behind enemy lines and the Battle of Britain has crippled the RAF. England awaits the Nazi invasion, fortifying its coastlines with the country bumpkins that make up the majority of the cast. Ewan McGregor voices Chris, a farm boy who was unable to enlist due to his big hands, who must lead the English people in a retreat over Hadrian’s Wall and into the uncharted and savage Scot Land. There, they take a last stand against the Nazis.
The film is full of incident with a broad array of characters and places, but it’s not very funny. It seems that the writer/ directors Edward and Rory McHenry were so aware that their concept was (reasonably) funny that they forgot to put in more jokes. Ample comedy is made of all the nationalities present but none of it is particularly original. The Nazi’s are all homosexual and zer accents are mocked. The British are stiff upper-lipped and stupid. The Indians are cowards and no prizes for guessing who the leader of the savage Scots is. Poking fun at stereotypes can be funny, but a film based solely on that idea just can’t work. There are a lot of action scenes in between but none of it really works.
What doesn’t help are the frequent references to other, better films which don’t raise laughs but merely work to remind you of those films and make you wish you were watching them. Richard E. Grant is a swearing vicar, but he is really Withnail all over again. Grant can swear really well, but if that’s the only reason he’s there, it gets a bit sad. Most of the jokes were entirely misjudged and others were just plain tired.
That is not to say that the film is terrible. It isn’t. It’s just another unfunny comedy, another film that diverts your attention briefly but never really goes anywhere. Bad horror films can be entertaining but bad comedies can’t do anything other than disappoint. At least with “Team America” there were brief smatterings of clever satire before it completely ran out of steam. “Jackboots on Whitehall” didn’t really have any steam at all. The film may have worked in a shorter format, particularly as a comedy sketch. Anyone who has seen Monty Python’s “World’s Funniest Joke” sketch knows that a feature-length film based on that premise could not work. The proof is “Jackboots on Whitehall.” It has the makings of a good trailer and that’s about it.