05 June 2009

Mooney at the Movies: Land of the Lost

"I think we lost him. The ghost of Jack Valenti won't find us in here."

Land of the Lost (B)
Starring Will Ferrell, Anna Friel, Danny McBride, Jorma Taccone
Written by Chris Henchy & Dennis McNicholas
Directed by Brad Silberling

Adapting a television series can be awfully cumbersome. After all, it's the most tailor-made for our ADD generation (made even worse thanks to MTV) and getting the average person to sit through a 90-minute or two-hour movie after ordinarily sitting through 22 minutes plus commercials can be quite difficult.

Usually, the faithful efforts end up as the best, in both action (i.e. The Fugitive, Mission: Impossible) and comedy (The Naked Gun, The Simpsons). And occasionally directors score with an off-kilter adaptation or outright parody like The Brady Bunch Movie), but usually they end up as horrific mismatches of the two (Charlie's Angels, Wild Wild West).

So it's actually kind of refreshing that Land of the Lost doesn't even seem to have (or care to have) a plan.

The film opens with an appropriately crazed-looking Dr. Rick Marshall (Ferrell), plugging his new book on the Today show, angering host Matt Lauer (a great sport here) with his every word, claiming travel to parallel dimensions is possible through extensive research and trials of "tachyon accelerator." When Lauer attacks his credibility, Marshall storms off the set, only to come lunging back. Flash forward three years where Marshall's been reduced to a YouTube-fueled joke.

"Any requests? Stop? As in 'Stop in the Name of Love'? Oh, you just want me to stop."

He now gives "wonders of science" presentations to school groups visiting the La Brea Tar Pits, only the youngsters are more vicious than his peers or Matt Lauer. "How come I saw you crying in the bathroom before this presentation?" one girl asks. Drowning his sorrows in chips, ice cream, and late-night Arby's runs, Marshall is surprised to see lovely British grad student Holly at his office door, announcing herself as a disciple of his "quantum paleontology" research.

She convinces him to fix his "tachyon accelerator" and off they go into the desert to perform a field test. They ask lecherous Will (Danny McBride) to give them a tour of his amusement park, but first he tries to shill fireworks (with interesting, homemade labels like "The Mexican Vasectomy") and mammary-shaped coffee mugs. And on the water ride he warns his two passengers they "may get wet." Marshall demands to know if his equipment will get soaked, to which Will responds, "I wasn't talking to you. I was talking to Mary Poppins."

And at this point, let me remind audiences everywhere that the presence of Danny McBride is a sure-fire sign that you shouldn't bring kids into theater.

This is one of the film's fatal flaws. It's being marketed as family-friendly entertainment, and parents will probably take kids under age 12 (which is a bad idea for any PG-13 movie) here, expecting an action-comedy everyone can enjoy. Boy, are they in for a surprise. Between constant groping, drug use, and an F-bomb or two, it's enough to make parents want to stay home and rent Paul Blart: Mall Cop again. Heaven help us.

I don't think this is quite the shot in the arm you wanted for your film career, Jorma.

So for whom is this movie? Well, obviously Ferrell and McBride fans, who still imagine to be hilarious in neutered PG-13 form. But it's more for those who remember the series (either the original, trippy '74 incarnation or the terribly awesome '90s version) as a source of campy laughs or the Most Awesome Thing to Watch While High (the latter title applies to any Sid & Marty Krofft production).

When the movie adheres to this premise, throwing gag after gag at the screen, the movie works. But when it tries to focus on a plot (something about retrieving the "tachyon accelerator" for a lizard in a tunic and he'll get them back home, it loses all momentum.

It's almost like a rip in the time-space continuum: when the film's focus is nothing, this film roars.

(Photos courtesy Universal Pictures and Rotten Tomatoes)

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