When I was growing up my favorite TV show was “Gilligan’s Island”. I am not proud of that, but I am not defensive about it either. Everyone has guilty pleasures and “Gilligan’s Island” is one of my generations most common ones. There has been much conjecture over the years about a remake. Most would agree that while it is interesting to wonder who would play the iconic roles, the end product would be nothing short of a disaster. Think “Flintstones” or virtually any other attempt to bring a TV classic to the big screen. A recent attempt to buck the trend was “Dad’s Army”. For my fellow Baby Boomers, “Dad’s Army” is the equivalent of “Hogan’s Heroes” for the British. It appeared on the BBC from 1968-1977 and was very popular. It ranks among the greatest British sitcoms. The series is about the Home Guard in WWII and most of the characters are elderly British gents who are patriotically defending their island against a potential invasion or paratrooper drop. The movie takes a typical plot and expands it into a feature film.
The movie is set in 1944. A Nazi spy is killed sending a message by pigeon. The pigeon is subsequently shot down by some British lads who are hunting for Pvt. Walker (Daniel Mays). Mays is the unit’s black marketer. This way of connecting the unit to the spy is typical of the movie’s humor. The rest of the characters are introduced via names on the screen which is the movie’s way of making it easy for its elderly audience to identify the new actors that are playing their old favorites. To kill time before the espionage plot kicks in, the geezers are sent on a mission to recover a runaway bull. 1960s British slapstick ensues. Meanwhile, the Nazis have green-lighted Operation Cobra which involves a lady spy infiltrating the Home Guard to determine the site of the D-Day build-up. Rose Winters (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is masquerading as a journalist who is doing a story on the unit. Since she is automatically the hottest bird in Walmington-on-Sea, several members of the group try making moves on her. This includes Capt. Mainwarring (Toby Jones) and his second in command Sgt. Wilson (Bill Nighy). She plays them for fools, which is not much of a challenge. Mainwarring gets to be lead buffoon. The movie uses the tired old gag where Rose convinces him that he looks more handsome without his glasses. Tired pratfalls result. Naturally, the wives and women of the town feel threatened by the hottie. As should all of Great Britain since this wily female spy is using these geniuses to find information that will win the war for Hitler.
I am all for nostalgia. Hell, I’m a History teacher. And I have a soft spot for classic TV. But that is mainly nostalgia-fueled. I am not blind to the reality that the Golden Age of television is mostly pyrite. I’m talking about American TV. I am not as qualified to disrespect the BBC. While a big fan of its crime and mystery dramas, I am less enamored with the sitcoms, with the obvious exceptions of "Monty Python" and "Fawlty Towers". My favorite is "Allo! Allo!" which is ironic because it is also set in WWII. David Croft co-created and co-wrote both “Dad’s Army” and “Allo! Allo!” I have seen every episode of “Allo! Allo!”, but had seen none of “Dad’s Army” until I watched a couple in preparation for this review. I watched the first episode and one of the most highly acclaimed episodes (“Deadly Attachment”) to get a feel for the show and to be able to compare it to the movie.
I have to admit I was not impressed with the series. In my opinion, it is greatly inferior to “Allo! Allo!”, but I understand that humor is subjective and many would argue that “Gilligan’s Island” is sophomoric and “Hogan’s Heroes” is offensive. Regardless of anyone’s opinion on the quality of the TV series, the movie could not have made many fans happy. As a stand alone effort, it is terrible. It just is not funny. I did not laugh a single time and I generally am open to silliness. The slapstick is lame and the feeble attempts at sexual innuendo (an art that BBC sitcoms have long mastered) are pathetic. It is not even campy, which is the least you could ask for in an attempt to revive a dinosaur comedy. The acting is embarrassing. I felt sorry for a cast that was heavy with recognizable British B-listers. It was not their fault, mind you. Toby Jones is given the thankless task of caricaturing a caricature. In the series, Mainwarring is portrayed as a well-meaning, if clueless leader wannabe. In the movie, he becomes a dolt. I find it hard to believe that the series’ fans were happy with this tweaking of the character. The rest of the characters are more faithful to the originals, but second rate. Since this is a modern remake, the women’s roles had to be enhanced. Mrs. Mainwarring and her cadre are given a prominent role when in the series she did not even appear. Most perplexing is the appearance of Catherine Zeta-Jones. I doubt this movie gets featured on her resume. If the idea was to attract an American audience – that was not going to happen no matter who appeared in the movie. Talk about a movie that does not travel well. Was she that desperate for cash?
My take away from the viewing experience was one of sadness and I am not even a fan of the series. I just know that there are many who are and as an Anglophile I wanted the movie to be good. It isn’t. But neither will “Gilligan’s Island”. Some ideas are best left in the speculation phase. I sure would like to see a movie based on “Allo! Allo!” Imagine what they could do with the sexual innuendo in the 21st Century. I wonder who would play Rene. Actually, I fantasize more about who would play Yvette.