HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Saturday, May 21, 2011

JACKBOOTS ON WHITEHALL -- movie review by porfle

If you ever got off to playing war with army men and action figures, JACKBOOTS ON WHITEHALL (2010) may send you right into a geeky swoon. If not, you'll either enjoy this loud, manic, corny spoof of British WWII flicks and boys' adventure stories, or wonder just what the hell you're looking at and why.

The film opens with some spectacular aerial action during the Battle of Britain.  This gives us an idea of how well co-directors Edward and Rory McHenry can stage action using puppets and some exquisitely crafted models and settings--you might swear some of it is done with stop-motion animation.  It also lets us know that the McHenrys are going to have a field day comically indulging in all the hoariest WWII cliches and caricatures they can muster.  "Rotters!  You filthy rotters!" cries one pilot as his buddy is shot down.

Things look bleak for England as the Nazis begin burrowing under the English Channel in order to strike at the heart of London.  Meanwhile, burly farm boy Chris (voiced by Ewan McGregor), who was denied admission to the military because his hands are too big, dreams of going into battle as he works the farm with his dad.

When the Nazis arrive in London and conquer the city, Chris musters the local townspeople to defend the homefront but is forced to flee to Scotland along with Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall repeating the role he played in THE KING'S SPEECH).  There, the ragtag group of Brits take cover behind Hadrian's Wall and prepare to fend off the advancing hordes. 

Very little of this is actually funny, but it's so raucous and audaciously executed that I found it rather fascinating to watch.  The battle sequences are particularly impressive, with tanks blowing the crap out of 10 Downing Street and other London landmarks while the Hindenberg looms menacingly overhead.  There's just as much violence as in a live-action war flick, with puppets machine-gunning each other and engaging in bloody hand-to-hand combat. 

Characters include many of the old stand-bys--the hero's beautiful heartthrob, Daisy (DIE ANOTHER DAY'S Rosamund Pike), the fiesty Vicar (Richard E. Grant), homely-but-stalwart Rutty, who leads the women's volunteer force (Pam Ferris), the rip-snortin' American flyboy Billy (Dominic West), and various other familiar character types.  Some of the voice talent perform several different roles.

The acting, as you might guess, is a little stiff.  Still, the figures are fairly well manipulated to suggest motion and their faces are articulate enough to simulate speech, eye-blinking, and the occasional change of expression (with a little help from CGI).  Chris sports the same placid, lantern-jawed look on his face throughout, while Daisy and the rest of the female characters are lovely but as blank as Barbie dolls.

The Nazis, on the other hand, are a flamboyant bunch.  Setting up residence in Churchill's former digs are a transvestite Hitler (Alan Cumming), bloated oaf Goering (Richard Griffiths), reptilian Himmler (Richard O'Brien), and a skeletal Goebbels (Tom Wilkinson) with a face right out of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" by way of the Addams Family.  Their scenes together are pure, lowbrow burlesque.

After Churchill and the gang go through the standard morale-boosting and mock-meaningful banter for awhile, the Third Reich shows up in full force and begins their attack.  Meanwhile, Chris has journeyed north to seek help from none other than Braveheart himself (who is modeled after, but isn't, Mel Gibson).  Some of their dialogue gives an indication of the film's wit:

"Braveheart!  We need your help...and your lethal weapons!"
"Would that be lethal weapon one, two, three, or four?"

Yes, I groaned, but the battle royale that follows is enough to make up for the corniest dialogue.  If anything, this carnage-packed melee is even more violent than the real BRAVEHEART, filled with enough graphic puppet gore to shock even G.I. Joe, plus a gaggle of gorgeous Nazi she-devils who unnaturally excited me in a Real Doll kind of way.  The climax of the battle is right out of INDEPENDENCE DAY, although I was absolutely aghast that the filmmakers failed to come through with the most obvious and keenly-anticipated Hindenberg gag you could imagine.

I watched a screener so I can't comment on bonus features, but the following are listed as DVD extras: behind-the-scenes footage, interviews with the creators, "Bad Day to be a Nazi", "Hitler's Rat Pack", "The Nazi Hotties", "Explosions", "Voiceovers", and a trailer. 

If you're not really buying any of this puppet stuff, then much if not all of JACKBOOTS ON WHITEHALL will likely seem draggy, pointless, even utterly ridiculous.  But I liked it.  With its fine artistic detail, creative camerawork, amusingly stupid humor, and nostalgic yet irreverent attitude, it's one puppet show that pretty much deserves to be billed above Spinal Tap.

Buy it at

No comments: