Imagine Team America crashing headfirst into Inglourious Basterds and you're about halfway to getting your head around Jackboots On Whitehall, a period puppet comedy that imagines a German invasion of London in the midst of World War II. Brothers Edward and Rory McHenry write and direct the film, dressing up action figures and sending them on a manic road trip across the UK to battle the Nazis. The film draws references from all over the shop - Thunderbirds, Dad's Army, Battle Of Britain and Braveheart to name a few - but it's fast and funny enough to move past its influences and create something that stands steadily on its own.
Leading the all-star voice cast is Ewan McGregor as Chris, a farmboy with over-sized hands. With his fingers too big to fit in the trigger hold for army rifles, he's left at home in sleepy Kent while England's finest are heroically defending the country. There is a silver lining, though, in the form of Daisy (Rosamund Pike), the girl of his dreams and daughter of the local booze-powered vicar (Richard E. Grant). When news reaches the village that London has been invaded, Chris rallies together the residents - and arrogant US pilot Fiske (Dominic West) - to go and bail out Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall) from an under-siege Downing Street. From there the journey moves on to Hadrian's Wall for an epic, bloody showdown and some sly digs at Mel Gibson.
There's a pleasant madness and anarchic spirit present in Jackboots - the humour is juvenile and broad, stacked up with innuendo and double entendres, yet the puppets bring a charm that diffuses any offensiveness or xenophobia that threatens to seep through. There's a classic British sitcom feel, too, with the majority of characters incompetent or idiotic in some way. Fiske's constant references to fighting "Commies" adheres to the stereotype of American ignorance and among the Nazis - Hitler (Alan Cumming), Goebbels (Tom Wilkinson), Göring (Richard Griffiths) and Himmler (Richard O'Brien) - one is a cross-dressing homosexual and another looks like an emaciated green zombie. Add that to the portrayal of those living north of the border and the chances of Jackboots travelling internationally are probably slim, this is a boy's own domestic comedy. It is, at least, not afraid to poke fun at the stiff upper lip English mentality. When Churchill, chomping a cigar and holding a rifle, yells "eat my hot lead, Fritz!" it's quickly apparent just what kind of tale this is.
Jackboots's puppetry and CG facial animation is quite basic and the script might not match the brilliance of Team America's go-for-the-jugular satire, but this is a fun and diverting 90 minutes of puppet chaos made with care, love and some impressively detailed old-school model work. Oh, and it's filmed in widescreen 'Panzervision'!
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