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HomeBlogPopcorn Parent Movie ReviewsMovie Friday: Land of the Lost (PG-13)

Movie Friday: Land of the Lost (PG-13)

Campy Trip
Saturday morning meets Saturday Night in a brave new Land
By Jared Peterson

If you’ve ever wondered what a $100-million-dollar comedy sketch would be like, look no further than Land of the Lost, the big-screen update of the ‘70s cult TV series. But the huge sets and blockbuster special effects never take you too far away from the campy feel of the original, nor do they hinder the nimble comedic skill that has brought Will Farrell from improv to SNL to unlikely movie stardom. Ferrell is Dr. Rick Marshall—a scientist, author, and self-important boob who has some crazy ideas involving time-travel. He makes it all the way to the “Today Show”, only to be laughed back into obscurity after picking a fight with Matt Lauer. Rick’s only champion is Holly Cantrell (the adorable, imported Anna Friel), a plucky British doctoral candidate who inexplicably idolizes him. She’d follow him into hell, or, in this case, a roadside tourist trap in the desert, where Rick hopes to open a doorway in time with his homemade time machine, a jury-rigged contraption that periodically spits out numbers from A Chorus Line. (Just a stubborn glitch lodged in the memory, he explains. I’ll say.) They board a cheesy flume ride led by a crass redneck named Will (the up-and-coming Danny McBride), the showtune-mo-tron kicks on and the three are sucked down into an alternate universe. Across its wastes is strewn the detritus of history—a Viking ship, a cheap motel, the Titanic, and the skeletal remains of all who’ve come before. They quickly befriend an ape-boy called Cha-Ka (Jorma Taccone), and then they’re off, fleeing for their lives from the kinds of pests you’d expect on a camping trip gone crazy: super-sized insects, average-sized dinosaurs and man-sized lizards called Sleestaks.

Hilarity ensues. No, really. Farrell, having cornered the market on blustering ineptitude, is given free rein here to do what he does best—namely, to dig his character deeper and deeper into quagmires of well-deserved embarrassment, all for our amusement. It’s hard to steal the show from him, but the mercurial McBride occasionally pulls it off; they work very well together, and there were times when I couldn’t honestly tell whether the dialogue was partly or even completely improvised. Regardless, credit is due director Brad Silberling and writers Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas for fostering this loose, improv-comedy style, or for simply stepping out of its way. It’s especially impressive given the extravagances of the frenetic, effects-laden action-adventure production. Blessedly, the film doesn’t take itself the least bit seriously. And what better set-up for that wry, sketch-comedy feel than a fantasy world where anything’s possible, the grosser the better. One downside to the freestyle vibe is a meandering pace in some of the bits. That urge to keep the joke going and going fits in with the conspiratorial, juvenile glee in the proceedings—easily overlooked, of course, if you’re in a juvenile mood, too. Take one scene in which Rick pours dinosaur urine on himself to fool the beasts that are chasing him. Puerile, gross… and pretty funny. But in Farrell’s hands it becomes an aria of exponential misfortune, a seemingly endless pile-up of worse ideas upon bad. And—if you’ll pardon the expression—it’s comedy gold.

Despite this scatological bent, or maybe because of it, the film is being marketed as fun for the whole family. I won’t argue the point, but there’s no question Land of the Lost is PG-plus. The standard curses, including a silently mouthed “F-you,” are all there, expanded upon in inventive flourishes and variations. (Looking for three or four euphemisms for a dinosaur’s private parts? Bring a pen.) There are many off-color comments, some rather rude; references to the classics of bedroom and bathroom humor; plus some good old-fashioned groping—Cha-Ka’s preferred method of introduction. We see Farrell shirtless—whether that’s sex or violence I can’t quite say—catch the occasional glance at Holly’s cleavage, and set eyes on a gaggle of native women in nothing but beaded loincloths and strategically draping hair. Characters make reference to marijuana, and there’s an extended scene with the boys babbling on and nursing the munchies under the influence of some exotic, berry-based narcotic.
There’s a bit of a scare factor here as well. Much of the film’s massive budget has been spent exploring the grosser or meaner sides of God’s creatures. After Rick manages to insult the smarts of an unusually intelligent T-rex it spends the rest of the movie chasing him and our heroes around, roaring and bellowing and snapping the whole way—the sound alone might easily spook the kids. The Sleestaks are slow attackers, just like in the original, but they advance with zombie-esque determination and hiss through rows of piranha-like teeth, which could be kind of unsettling, too. Add to this a little something for every phobia: swooping flocks of giant, red bats; a scuttling, charging crab the size of a Red Lobster (and just as tasty, it turns out); a brood of spiders that scatter from a giant piece of fruit; and an outsized mosquito that drains at least a gallon of Rick’s blood. Swarming velociraptors dismember a wayward, time-travelling ice cream man—no blood there, but still—and a few Sleestaks get devoured or burned up in a lava pit.

The trailer for Funny People, the new film from Judd Apatow, contains a few essentially harmless put-downs—and the complete plot of the movie. Seriously, unless it turns out Adam Sandler’s been dead the whole time, Sixth Sense-style, I think there’ll be few surprises. I’ll still go see it, though.

Jared Peterson most recently reviewed Dance Flick. He has an idea for a big-budget remake of Far Out Space Nuts. What? It could happen.

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