1941 is a six year old’s idea of a movie, all punchlines and no setups, a gargantuan Three Stooges skit that goes on for two hours of houses collapsing, things falling on people, people punching someone and accidentally punching someone else, vehicles ramming into each other and comic actors mugging for the camera for three seconds before the camera cuts to the next bang and swoosh.
Characters and story are left behind. Even the jokes rarely have setups. Most things just begin exploding, falling, collapsing or burning. The few setups for the gags involve girls and they’re just there to get the ball rolling on the Three Stooges routines. It’s too many gags and not enough story even for a cartoon. It’s way too much for a live action movie, especially one set around WWII.
1941 was a bad idea and in bad taste, beautifully photographed, framed and timed, but with no script to go with all that effort. There is the occasional funny moment during the extended dance sequence, but that, like the entire movie, goes on much too long and there is nothing to follow it up with.
Too adult for kids and too immature even for teenagers, 1941 is stuck just being dumb. It’s a manic sequence of gags, where every second another one is being thrown at the screen tiring you out in the first ten minutes. And there’s another 108 minutes to go. By the time an exhausted General Stillwell says “It’s going to be a long war”; it feels like it’s already been the longest movie ever.
1941 is repetitive. Its small repertoire of gags rolls on, getting bigger, but not any better. Things just happen because they’re supposed to. Bullets always hit gas tanks or live wires. A trip always leads to a dozen people falling over each other. A fight always leads to punches being thrown at the wrong people. Cars and planes always begin crashing into each or through buildings. Fires always start when you aren’t looking at them. A movie can get away with one or two of these but not the same few gags rolled out so many times that they’re stale 10 minutes in.
The story about a Japanese sub looking to redeem its honor by blowing up Hollywood colliding with domestic panic over a Japanese invasion has as much substance as the latest adventure of the Alfalfa Gang or the Three Stooges. It’s just there so that the insane machine can begin bopping people over the head or splattering them with paint or setting them on fire. Everyone is an idiot. Wally’s quest to dance with his girlfriend at the USO is the closest thing to a main story, but by the end he’s rattling on in a tank to the end of a pier to shoot at a sub, while leaving her behind for no other reason than that the next gag demands it. Just as his crew are throwing things at each other for no other reason.
Imagine a pie thrown in the face for 118 minutes and that’s 1941. Sometimes the pie is a little bigger. Sometimes it’s got motor oil inside. Sometimes it’s on fire. Sometimes there’s a naked girl in it. But it’s still the same pie for 118 minutes.