Carry On Columbus (1992) *

Clearly not a great film, but one I am slightly defensive of for three reasons.
First, trivially, because it is the only Carry On film I saw new at the cinema, interestingly enough on the night before I left home for university.
Second, because there is nothing whatever wrong with the script, and the relentless sniping about bad jokes and feeble dialogue not only ignores the fairly obvious fact that all good Carry On films have bad jokes and feeble dialogue – the worse the jokes and the feebler the dialogue the better, in fact – but also disgracefully belittle the talents of screenwriter Dave Freeman. Freeman is not nobody. Neither is he some strutting newcomer, brought in like the majority of the cast. This film could so easily have been written by Ben Elton, you ungrateful lot! Freeman is one of the great British sitcom writers, who penned most of the better Carry On TV shows and, of course, Carry On Behind, easily the best and most authentic post-Rothwell piece of work in the Carry On canon. And his script here is for the most part fine.
Thirdly, a word about the casting, the main reason given for dismissing the movie. Now, I bow to no man in my hatred of modern British comedy and contempt for its sneeringly artless practitioners. But clearly, the problem here is not that new comic actors were drafted in per se, but simply that the wrong ones were. Carefully cast newcomers would have been fine, as they were throughout the lifetime of the original series: so many of those we now consider the quintessential faces of the series didn’t show up until well into the run. And Windsor Davies was fabulous. And here, Sara Crowe fits in fine, as does Richard Wilson and Maureen Lipman, while Rik Mayall, who opens the film on a real high, is a triumph. He fits effortlessly into the old style, and for two minutes Kenneth Williams is spectacularly honoured. Sadly, he disappears after the first scene, and even more bizarrely, the script has no greater use for the proper old-timers, with Leslie Phillips, June Whitfield, Jon Pertwee and Jack Douglas all getting what amount to cameos; Pertwee’s a walk-on so small he’s virtually an extra, and Douglas - who had so long campaigned for a new film- is spat on with a proper role that gives him, insultingly, almost literally nothing to do. Only Cribbins and Dale get a shot from the real performers.
But then, look at some of the rubbish given major roles! Alexei Sayle! And Keith Allen! And defying all reason, the second male lead role is entrusted to Peter Richardson, unquestionably the laziest actor in comic history, sullen and mumbling, and lacking in anything resembling energy or even interest in what he’s doing, as always. It’s a tragic error that leaves a massive hole in the film, but that, and that alone, sinks the ship. Some of the performances, the script, and, I think, the raison d’etre are all just fine.