DIRECTED BY: Edward McHenry, Rory McHenry
FEATURING: Voices of Ewan McGregor, Timothy Spall, Rosamund Pike, Richard E. Grant
PLOT: British farmers unite with Churchill and Scotsmen to repel Nazis who invade London by
tunneling under the English Channel.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The idea of an absurd Nazi invasion of England acted out by children’s toys is odd and appealing, but the premise is undercooked, and never hits either the weird or (more importantly) the comic notes that it should.
COMMENTS: Hitler in a dress! That should be funny, right? It could be either a great punchline, or the beginning of a running series of gags that see (for example) der Führer more concerned with what’s going on with his hemlines than with developments on the front lines. But Hitler’s transvestite cameo is emblematic of the problem with Jackboots. The joke is never developed; the movie just trots out the dictator dressed as the Queen of England, with a pearl-handled Luger, and expects us to laugh. Although the occasional amusing one-liner slips through the fog of war (usually delivered by Timothy Spall in his dead-on Churchill impression), for the most part Jackboots‘ quips don’t exactly stomp on your funny bone. They’re sparse, as well. A lot of time is devoted to chuckle-free dramatic scenes between big-handed farmhand turned soldier Chris (McGregor), his lady-love Daisy (Pike), and her disapproving Vicar father (Grant), as well as to intricate battles between plastic Panzers and Punjabi guards that—considering they’re enacted with toy tanks fighting Ken dolls in turbans—are more thrilling than expected. Jackboots is part WWII movie parody (with a roughneck American pilot who thinks the Nazis are Commies), part clever historical references (the defeated Brits retreat to Hadrian’s Wall, and the Germans are fearful of pursuing where even the Romans dared not go), and part pure silliness (a Braveheart spoof takes up a large part of the last act). There is a running undercurrent of mock-prejudice against the Scottish (who are depicted as cannibals in skirts) that must be funnier to U.K. residents than to those in the U.S. and elsewhere—at least, I hope it is; otherwise, it’s just another Jackboots comic misfire. The movie manages to be unique without ever finding its own voice, which makes it interesting without ever being engaging. Mainstreamers hoping for a script with the sly gross-out humor of Team America or the pop-culture savvy of TV’s “Robot Chicken” (which uses the same action-figure aesthetic as Jackboots) will be disappointed, if not angry and frustrated, by the oblique comedy on display here. But even if it’s not riotously funny, little touches like a ghoulish pig-nosed Goebbels, a cat who looks like Hitler, puppet gore, and an attack vanguard of bazooka-wielding Nazi dominatrices in black lipstick should be enough to keep weirdophiles watching to the end.
Though the end result is mediocre, Jackboots‘ crazy synopsis managed to attract top-notch cult British acting talent. Besides McGregor, Pike, Spall and Grant, the voiceover cast includes Alan Cumming (as Hitler), Tom Wilkinson (as Goebbels), and Richard O’Brien (as Himmler).
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…for sheer oddity value… must rank as some kind of collector’s item.”–Henry Fitzherbert, Daily Express (contemporaneous)