Land of the Lost (dir: Brad Silberling)
There was a time when sanity prevailed in Hollywood and films like this received the respect they deserved: minimal budgets and quick playoffs, before word of mouth got out and people discovered that yes, it really is as dumb as it looks.
Land of the Lost, a mega-budget comedy reworking / dismantling of the seventies children’s TV adventure, isn’t just any dumb comedy, mind you. Forget the misleading “A Brad Silberling Film,” a credit that suggests there’s a real movie to be found here. This is a Will Ferrell movie defined by Will Ferrell doofus humor and dumb gags played with a straight face. In films like Anchorman and Talladega Nights and Blades of Glory, that can be hilarious and weirdly inspired. Here it just feels like a lazy rehash of familiar shtick in a quasi-prehistoric setting.
Fans of the original Saturday morning adventure series of the seventies will note the names are the same, but this isn’t Park Ranger Rick Marshall and his kids Will and Holly. Ferrell is disgraced quantum paleontologist Dr. Rick Marshall, whose whacked-out theories get ridiculed by no less than Matt Lauer (who delivers the funniest scenes in the movie) and sink his career. Anna Friel is former graduate student turned Marshall groupie who pushes him to test a new scientific doohickey (part time machine, part show tune jukebox) that is supposed to send them through a time warp and into another dimension. Their ill-planned “routine expedition” through a chintzy roadside attraction turns into what appears to be a theme park ride in the making and drags them and their desert yokel tour guide Will (Danny McBride) to a dimensionally confused planet of the apes, dinosaurs and lizard men.
Friel doesn’t waste time in the new world before she tears her jeans down to hot pants and strips down to a tank top. That’s about the extent of her character which, by virtue of being the only sane and centered character in the film, is sidelined as straight man while the boys carry the comedy: Ferrell’s blithely pompous and utterly flummoxed doofus scientist, McBride’s redneck tagalong and Jorma Taccone as the furry, fun-loving Chaka, who may speak a different language but falls right in line as bright-eyed sidekick and grinning prankster. He’s just one of the guys, riffing through what appears to be a completely improvised revision of the script. One wonders if it was any funnier before they started goofing with it, or if all the prehistoric bathroom humor was actually in their from the beginning.
There’s something like $100 million spent on the CGI dinosaurs and surreal cultural artifacts dropped into the desert of no return like unearthed ruins of the future past, while the army of lizard men are just cheesy suits that could have beamed out of an original Star Trek episode and all the more fun for it. This is a film that begs for the cheapjack effects of a seventies goof like Caveman, where the special effects were less concerned with looking real than being funny. There are a few giggles and a couple of clever set pieces, but otherwise it’s just an aimless romp lost in the land of juvenile humor and missed opportunities. Even the end credits, a replay of the entire film in dynamic graphic images, makes it look more fun and interesting than what we just sat through.
But the title is right about one thing: I lost ninety minutes waiting for something funny – or even interesting – to wander through this land.
I also review the film for the Seattle PostGlobe here.
Directed by Brad Silberling; screenplay by Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas, based on the TV series created by Sid and Marty Krofft; featuring Will Ferrell, Anna Friel, Danny McBride, Jorma Taccone, John Boylan. 93 Minutes. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, and for language including a drug reference.