Carry on Columbus (1992)

Rating: D

Dir: Gerald Thomas
Star: Jim Dale, Sara Crowe, Bernard Cribbins, Alexei Sayle

In this series, I’m skipping That’s Carry On, which was largely a compilation movie, and Carry On Emmannuelle, since that was previously reviewed. So we jump straight to the entry which put the franchise in the wood-chipper, and is often regarded as among the worst British films of all time. The empirical evidence for that is slight. On the IMDb, it’s not even the lowest rated series movie, its 3.4 beating the 3.2 score for Emmannuelle. At the British box-office, it also was actually more successful than the considerably more expensive, non-spoof movies released about Columbus for the 500th anniversary, such as 1492: Conquest of Paradise. But, let’s not kid ourselves. It’s still bad.

The story sees Christopher Columbus (Dale) sailing with a crew best described as motley, to the West Indies. Certain groups with a vested interest try to stop him, using agent Fatima (Crowe) to try and sabotage the mission. Which, given the incompetence of everyone on board, such as navigator Mordecai Mendoza (Cribbins), should be easy. Yet somehow, Columbus arrives in the New World, where the natives all sound fresh off the set of Goodfellas. But outside of the three mentioned, there are few characters who get to do much more than shuffle on, say their lines, and shuffle off. The cast mixes veterans, mostly tangentially related to the franchise (also including Leslie Phillips, June Whitfield and Jack Douglas), and “alternative comedians”, including half the cast of The Young Ones.

Along with the script, it’s the latter who are the biggest problem, proving why the snide joke at the time was that they were the alternative to comedy. It feels as if none had seen a Carry On film before, their delivery sapping what little wit is to be found in the lines. About the only exception is Julian Clary, who does an admirable job of channeling the spirit of Charles Hawtrey. That he now has a flourishing panto career is no surprise. But the compromise between the “right on” alternative comedy and seaside postcard humour of Carry On results in something which will satisfy fans of neither camp.

The genuine laughs to be found are few and far between. About the only exchange to elicit any reaction from me was this conversation between Marco the Cereal Killer – so called, because he “Beats his victims to death with a sack of Rice Crispies” – and Fatima:
    Man-eating sharks. The sea’s full of them. You mind you don’t fall in.
    Oh, my goodness! You don’t think they’d eat me whole?
    No, I’m told they spit that out.
Something else which struck me: the look of the film is incredibly cheap, feeling as if it were shot on video. Earlier entries were adept at concealing the low budgets. This seems almost to flaunt its poverty, and after a fourteen-year gap since the previous entry, the disappointment is sharp and obvious.  The theme song, written by Malcolm McLaren and Bow Wow Wow bassist Leigh Gorman, is a bit of a banger. But, to quote the fag-end of another McLaren project: “Ever feel like you’ve been cheated?”