Sunday, June 07, 2009

Land of the Lost / **½ (PG-13)

Dr. Rick Marshall: Will Ferrell
Holly Cantrell: Anna Friel
Will Stanton: Danny McBride
Cha-Ka: Jorma Taccone
Enik: John Boylan
Matt Lauer: Matt Lauer
The Zarn: Leonard Nimoy

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Brad Silberling. Written by Chris Henchy & Dennis McNicolas. Based on the television series created by Sid Krofft and Marty Krofft. Running time: 93 min. Rated PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, and for language including a drug reference).

To call the new movie “Land of the Lost” strange may be perceived as an understatement. The fact that it is so strange is not really surprising considering it’s a remake of the very strange “Land of the Lost” ‘70s television show created by the undoubtedly strange television producers Sid and Marty Krofft. They also produced such questionable children’s programming as “H.R. Pufnstuf” and the oddball evening variety show “Pink Lady and Jeff”. Although the Kroffts’ names are all over this revamping of their strange adventure story, it somehow doesn’t seem strange enough.

What isn’t strange is that the story doesn’t really matter. It follows Dr. Rick Marshall and his belief that the answer to our energy crisis lies in “quantum paleontology.” There is an opening scene with the outlandish doctor being interviewed by Matt Lauer for the Today Show that is rather hilarious in the way Marshall gets under the veteran journalist’s skin. Another interview at the end of the movie has Marshall getting a sublime revenge on Lauer by forcing him to announce the title of his second book.

The scientific community at large disregards Marshall’s theories, and he soon finds himself lecturing grade school children about tachyons and answering questions from them like “Do dinosaurs have boobs?” But Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel, “Pushing Daisies”)—the only person who believes his theories—eventually seeks Marshall out. She takes Marshall to a sad amusement park out in the middle of the desert where the tachyon readings are high to field test his tachyon amplifier. Along the way they pick up Will Stanton, who is supposed to be their guide but becomes an unwitting tagalong when the tachyon amplifier transports the three to another dimension.

There is more to the plot that involves an alien race known as the Sleestack trying to get to Earth to take it over, but it’s really just an exercise in creating a framework where Will Ferrell (“Step Brothers”) as Marshall and Danny McBride (“Pineapple Express”) as Will can go off on their own comedic tangents, which mostly consist of sexual references and generally behaving like a couple of jackasses.

Now, I’m not knocking Ferrell’s and McBride’s comedic chops. There aren’t two people in the business at the moment better at portraying comic asses. But there doesn’t really seem to be much interest in the source material here. Sure, they make references to the talking points of the “Land of the Lost” television series. They make fun of the slow moving Sleestack—who are at least given ferocious looking mouths. There is the T-Rex that seems to have it out for Marshall and his clan. Ferrell even shows up with a banjo at one point to do his own rendition of the theme song from the show.

However, outside of the major references to the TV show, the movie plays like a series of sketches cobbled together from conversations people might have had about the show when under the influence. It’s filled with speculations on situations like, how could the same dinosaur keep showing up again and again to chase these people? Or, how do they understand their primate sidekick, Cha-Ka (Jorma Taccone, “Hot Rod”)? Or, with all those giant prehistoric insects flying around, what would happen if one of them bit a human? Even, how would someone survive being eaten by a T-Rex?

There are many funny moments to be found in “Land of the Lost”. The scene where Marshall, Will and Cha-Ka drink the hallucinogenic fruit seems to be inspired by speculation that most of the Kroffts’ shows were filled with references to drug use. The filmmakers have a good deal of fun picking up on all of the debris the Kroffts left lying around their strange creation. But in the end, I felt compelled to wonder just why I should care about any particular aspect of this movie experience. It gave me a few good laughs, but nothing that needs to be revisited. Since this movie is a revisitation of the television series, should that be seen as a failure?

Note: Despite the fact that the original “Land of the Lost” television series was a kid’s show, this movie is not for children. Most of the comedy involves sexuality and vulgar language; and there is an extended sequence referencing drug use. The movie is rated PG-13 because its material is not suitable for anyone younger than 13 years of age. Some parents may not even want their 13-year-olds seeing this.

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