An elaborate theft of priceless paintings has taken place, and the police are at a loss to explain where they have disappeared to. In the tiny seaside village of Little Botham, Constable Ball (Bobby Ball) and Sergeant Cannon (Tommy Cannon) are the only policemen and the day after the robbery they are more concerned with breaking up a traffic jam. There is a herd of cows in the way, and one of the delayed vehicles is a car pulling a boat, driven by a mysterious French woman. PC Ball helps her out by taking the wheel and manoeuvering the car out of its space, denting a parked car belonging to the Superintendent (Eric Sykes) by mistake. It's another mark against the two coppers, and they will have to find a very good reason not to be closed down with the crime rate being so low. But all that will soon change...
Genius is an overused word when describing great films, but with The Boys in Blue it would be entirely inappropriate. Written by Sid Colin, it was an update to the eighties of an old Will Hay comedy, Ask a Policeman, but the two comedians taking the roles here showed little of the talent of the original stars. On Saturday night television in the early eighties, you had a choice of comic teams to watch: you could switch on BBC1 and see Little and Large, who never made a foray onto the big screen, or you could stick with ITV and watch Cannon and Ball. Both were on about the same level of humour, with catchphrases and sketches abounding, but it's difficult to see what film producers saw in Tommy and Bobby based on their TV material.
The film plays like an overextended sketch with the duo in the guise of bumbling policemen. The catchphrases, such as "You little liar!", "Yer mental!" and the most famous, "Rock on, Tommy!" were transferred intact, as was Ball's habit of wearing red braces which he would intermittently stretch out with one thumb, all presumably to remind audiences of the reason they liked to watch them on TV at the weekends. Cannon was the straight man, the (relatively) more intelligent of the two, who bossed the hyperactive Ball about, usually by grabbing him by the lapels and shouting at him. In truth, the jokes are not much worse than what they used to get away with on the small screen, and the guest stars are of the calibre that would appear on their show, too.
PC Ball and Sergeant Cannon become suspicious of a new arrival in the area, a supposed writer, Hilling (Edward Judd), who may have something to do with those stolen artworks. In one of many laboured scenes, the policemen break into his barn, which includes the falling into a cowpat routine and the falling into a barrel of water routine (twice), but Hilling chases them away. When the news comes through to their station (which doubles as a shop) that they may be transferred, the bumblers decide to create their own crime wave to keep themselves in work, by stealing the paintings of the local rich businessman, Lloyd (Roy Kinnear), with the help of his assistant (Suzanne Danielle), but things don't work out the way they plan.
Even though there are attempts to make the film contemporary, with the headless horseman replaced by a roving flying saucer, and the odd lines like, "Have some Bucks Fizz," "I prefer Adam Ant, meself", The Boys in Blue still looks like a relic of a bygone era, and probably did in 1982, as well. But despite its dire reputation, it's not a demanding watch, and has a certain puppydog charm. I suppose it was easy to kick around when it came out because viewers generally have higher standards for what they go out to see at the cinema of an evening compared to what they watch at home. Now that Cannon and Ball and their brand of working men's club humour have disappeared from the television screens, it's possible to see this film with a vaguely nostalgic glow as the last gasp of British variety on film - the double act even sing the theme song at the end. Rather this than Kevin and Perry Go Large.