A small Central American country is ostensibly British territory, but when local General Mosquera (Herbert Lom) stages a coup, it sets off a chain of events that spirals quickly out of control. As Britain prepares to send its warships to the Caribbean, The United States of America is welcoming a new President, Barbara Adams (Loretta Swit), who is taking over since the last President has suddenly died after persuading a journalist to hit him with a metal bar to prove how strong he was. As Adams is more liberal than her predecessor, she will be just the woman to step in and nip the conflict in the bud - won't she?
By the eighties, the previous decade's British tradition of taking successful sitcoms (or even middling small screen accomplishments) and making them into big screen versions had died out. There was one blip on that radar, however, and it was Whoops Apocalypse whose writers, Andrew Marshall and David Renwick, adapted their black comedy for the cinema to a notably less welcome reception. The whole obsession with being blown up in a nuclear holocaust was a very eighties concern of course, and here the idea would appear to have been to create a new Dr Strangelove.
But there's one big difference between the Stanley Kubrick film and this one, and it's not simply because this one isn't funny. The sixties satire had an undercurrent of seriousness that generated a tension as the inevitability of the conclusion loomed; the only sane reaction to a deadly problem was to laugh. Here, on the other hand, everyone is a cartoonish buffoon except for the President, which considering who the leader of the Free World was in the eighties, seems like a missed opportunity for lampooning. Instead, it's the UK Prime Minister Sir Mortimer Chris (Peter Cook) who is the man with his finger on the button.
Whether this was to build up the importance of Britain on the world stage, or to do a take off on the policies of the then Conservative government is unclear, and it's to the film's detriment it doesn't take place in any instantly recognisable political landscape. As a replacement, you're offered spoofs of such things as the tabloid obsession with Princess Diana, here named Princess Wendy (Joanne Pearce), who ends up being kidnapped by international terrorist and master of disguise Lacrobat (Michael Richards, whose appearance in blackface is interesting in light of his later onstage antics).
There are a few nice character parts, as Ian Richardson makes for a sympathetic warship captain who unwisely allows himself to be hypnotised for example, but the jokes aren't there - well, they're there, but the quality is low. Rik Mayall appears as an S.A.S. leader in all but name, but it's pretty desperate simply to have him shouting and swearing in lieu of any good lines. In fact, the humour is depressingly crude or tiresomely surreal, as when the Prime Minister decides that pixies are responsible for unemployment and conceives a solution that sees mass suicides of workers to make room for more job opportunities. Considering the cutting edge comedy that was around at the time, you expect more and Whoops Apocalypse really shows up the flaws in its fashionable humour. The small screen original was notably a lot more accomplished, both in skewering its targets and generating the laughs. Music by Patrick Gowers.