Review: JACKBOOTS ON WHITEHALL; More than a gimmick, less than a classic!

rating: 3

Wacky-puppet satire is the order of the day with 'Jackboots on Whitehall', brothers and first time writer/directors Ed and Rory McHenry's historical rewrite of the Second World War that has no shortage of humour and gags, but maybe not to the degree, or regularity that the style and synopsis would seem to suggest. At the height of World War II, Hitler's Third Reich seize the opportunity to invade England with the bulk of the British army stranded in Dunkerque. Himmler, Goering and Goebbels lead the charge as the Germans drill under the channel and up into the centre of London. Only a Kent farmer with aspirations of battle and hands too big for a trigger guard can save the day, as the remaining Allied resistance are pushed back to Hadrian€™s Wall. Tremendous concept with near limitless comic opportunities, but I can't help but feel something was lost in the execution. The choice of animation is a fusion of stop-motion and CGI, using lovingly sculpted action figures with their facial expressions and lip sync developed in post production via computer graphics. But do not worry, this is far from 'Robot Chicken', it is an extremely polished production, with exquisite set design by the McHenry€™s father David, across a wide variety of locales ranging from Downing Street to rural Kent. Overall the style of facial animation works to varied effect, with some characters lending their expressions better to the CGI than others. Goering€™s impressive squint seems to justify the choice, while disappointingly two of the most expressionless characters own the bulk of the screen time. The protagonist Chris (voiced by Ewan McGregor) and vicars daughter Daisy (Rosamund Pike) seem to lack the kind of emotion that could really have brought their developing relationship to life. An even greater shame when taking into consideration the quality of the casting for the vocal talent. 'Jackboots' really excels in this field, with Alan Cumming turning in a wonderfully camp, yet all too brief take on Hitler, Timothy Spall bringing Winston Churchill€™s growl to life (note - he plays Churchill in 'The King's Speech' also) and very accomplished, if a little clichéd, work by Sanjeev Bhaskar as Rupee, leader of the Punjab guard. At times though, the character expressions just don€™t quite reflect the quality of the voice art. From a directorial standpoint, the McHenry brothers have done a great job. It can€™t be easy taking such static subjects and creating flow and pace, particularly in the action scenes, which are really the bread and butter of 'Jackboots'. Dragging all the beauty out of the sets and unceremoniously blowing them to pieces. Initially the film is paced well, and continues in this fashion until the story moves to Hadrian€™s Wall, where the tale seems to come to a dramatic halt. At that point it became apparent that 93 minutes is maybe a touch too long. The gap between their journey north and the introduction of the savage Scots is a little drawn out, and punctuated by too much montage that you can€™t help thinking is nothing more than filler to make up the duration. Whilst the McHenry brothers show a great deal of potential, one criticism of the direction is that they do not utilise the rigidity of their subjects as a vehicle for visual comedy often enough. The visual jokes present really don€™t seem very well thought out, more clamouring for a cheap laugh in response to a particularly flat scene of dialogue. Dialogue is unfortunately where the film stumbles. No amount of visual aesthetic can compensate for a comedy that lacks consistent laugh out loud moments. This is not to say I didn€™t have smirk throughout, as it is fundamentally very well done, with some nice references such as the American Billy Fiske, the only Allied survivor of the Battle of Britain. The same role that Tom Cruise was set to play in the hopefully not to be developed 'The Few'. Yet upon the credits rolling there wasn€™t one single joke that stood out to me as being genuinely hilarious. Too much reliance is on innuendo and use of stereotype, none more so than the French character, whose presence is completely inconsequential and has no impact on the plot, he appears to be there purely as a means to get in a few French gags. But at least it shows the McHenry€™s are truly British. Ed and Rory have striven for the €˜offend everyone in order to offend no one€™ method, with a varying degree of success. A loving pinch at the cheek of all European races involved via the most obvious of stereoptypes, rather than the club round the head of the likes of 'Family Guy' and 'Team America: World Police'. Subtlety is not of the essence in Jackboots and there are problems regarding depth of character. Many seem to rely on one recurring joke that rears its head every ten minutes or so. Chris has his big hands, Billy Fiske says €˜sheeet€™ (shit) regularly in his over-exaggerated American accent, and the questionable presence of the French man is accompanied by his intermittent seduction of women. On its own merits this is a highly accomplished piece of animation from two directors who are showing real promise. The unfortunate thing is that it will be seen as a British answer to 'Team America€™ due to its similar visual style and demographic. Considering that Jackboots came in at a fraction of 'Team America's' $30 million budget, the production values stand proudly alongside. Yet this parity makes the shortcomings in that which costs nothing, the script, altogether more glaring. Whilst it can be said that 'Jackboots' in no way attempts to be in the same league of vulgarity as 'Team America', it still falls into the category of adult animation, utilising the €˜over offend to not offend€™ technique, and in that sense it falls by the wayside. 'Jackboots On Whitehall' may not be outstandingly funny, but it is tremendously charming and very well produced, and far from a waste of 93 minutes.

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