Starring: Toby Jones, Bill Nighy, Catherine Zeta-Jones
As World War II is nearing its conclusion, the Walmington-On-Sea Home Guard Platoon are given a task of patrolling a strategically important base near Dover. However after receiving news that they are being infiltrated by a German spy, the group of misfits must fulfil their duties and uncover the identity of the spy among them.
I am sure that many films make calculated risks, and I expect this 2016 feature length version of one of the most popular comedy series of all time involves exactly that. The fact is that this film could have easily had exactly the same plot but change its title and character names, but to call itself Dad’s Army and use the famous character names presents a calculated risk; it is more likely to get bad reviews as people will inevitably give bad reviews by (intentionally or not) comparing it to a TV series that is close to their hearts. However by having this title so many more people will inevitably watch it as in the same way that the big studios prefer to keep franchises going, even if Die Hard: Lots and Lots of Hard Dying could easily not involve John McClane, it will do because immediately it is easier to market with a well-known title. So the calculated risk is that the film may get worse reviews, but make more money, and these kind of films are ultimately products that need to make money.
A cynical opinion? Maybe, but then it is a very cynical industry.
Well, I believe the new Dad’s Army film should be judged on its own merits. Unfortunately it doesn’t have many and though it is watchable and perhaps would serve as passable entertainment if shown on television, the script seems to try to take on too much in terms of plot without ever focussing on the comedy.
What makes this a real shame is that it wastes the talented cast. Though of course the casting decisions may be more than a little cynical, predominantly the cast of big names prove to be the great casting decisions that they were on paper but are just let down the by the lacklustre material they are given. Toby Jones is an incredibly talented actor and is always immensely watchable in anything, and his Captain Mainwaring is by far the best thing about the film, often producing emotional engagement or laughs all on his own. Likewise Tom Courtenay and Felicity Montagu are superb in their roles. Meanwhile Daniel Mays, Blake Harrison, Michael Gambon, Bill Paterson and Mark Gatiss only really play themselves in roles that are not any particular test of their acting, but they are more than adequate.
The same cannot be said for Bill Nighy, though of course the logic behind his casting makes perfect sense form a marketing and financial point of view, the fact is that he looks he really cannot be bothered, and unfortunately his character does play a pivotal role. Nighy quite simply ends up playing a bad impression of himself. Likewise Catherine Zeta-Jones lazily pouts her way through the film, but it is obvious she cannot be bothered either, and considering her character is also crucial to the plot that does not help with the engagement of the film. Worst of all is Martin Savage as Warden Hodges, his supposed banter with Manwaring is delivered in a really venomous and nasty way that it is completely out of tone with the rest of the supposedly light hearted tone of the film and not only feels unnecessarily out of place, but also leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.
The fact is that no matter how good the performances are, they would never be able to save the lacklustre script. There is most definitely a fair amount going on in terms of plot, and this may well be to make up for the lack of inventiveness in terms of both the bickering between the characters and their unique personalities, but it does show, as crucially the film is hardly ever particularly funny as the script is almost devoid of ideas or great, memorable lines.
As this is a film there is of course a need for set pieces, and admittedly the final set piece in the film’s conclusion is half decent, but it is not enough to save the film, especially as most of the minor engagement and few laughs up to that point are more down to the performances and not the script. The film also does feel out of place on the big screen as it is not particularly cinematic and there are some lazy and glaring continuity errors (not to mention a very dodgy CGI pigeon). If this were shown on television it would make for adequate light hearted and mindless afternoon entertainment that the whole family could watch, but for a film to merit a cinematic release then the writers need try a lot harder.
Despite some great performances (with the exception of the money grabbing Nighy and Zeta-Jones) from the great cast, Dad’s Army is severely let down by feeling like it was made for television and a horrendously flat script. Just about watchable on television, but no more.