By Michael O'Sullivan
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Imagine a contemporary update of "Gulliver's Travels" in which the titular hero - an unambitious pop-culture addict played by Jack Black - finds himself in a Lilliput whose pinkie-size denizens are only too willing to place themselves at his beck and call. What if this slacker were thrown into a miniature pre-industrial society filled with industrious and highly trainable workers - literally the size of worker bees - who were able to replicate, through ingenuity and effort, an elaborate if slightly low-tech simulacrum of the world that Gulliver left behind? A world of Guitar Hero and "Star Wars" DVDs? Of La-Z-Boy recliners and grande lattes, built not to their scale but to his?
That might be kind of neat, and sort of funny.
The new "Gulliver's Travels" is not that movie. For a brief, shining moment or two, there's a suggestion that it might just be headed in that direction. But then the movie takes a sharp turn, heads due south and never comes back.
In this unnecessary and unfunny re-imagining of the classic satire by Jonathan Swift, Lemuel Gulliver (Black) finds himself on the aforementioned island of tiny people while researching a travel article on the Bermuda Triangle. He's not actually a writer, but a worker in a newspaper mail room who has finagled the assignment by lying to a cute editor he likes named Darcy (Amanda Peet).
Initially, Gulliver is captured and imprisoned. But after extinguishing a raging fire by urinating on it - and, collaterally, on several Lilliputians - he's quickly declared a hero. (Just imagine that scene. On second thought, don't. If it sounds funny to you, you'll probably love the one where Gulliver accidentally sits on a Lilliputian after losing his pants. I can't do it justice in a family newspaper. But I will tell you there's a cast credit for a character described only as "Butt-crack man." Consider yourself warned.)
In short order, Gulliver is living in a beach-front contemporary, drinking fresh coffee out of a Rube Goldberg contraption maintained by a small army of Lilliputians, and watching live performances of his favorite shows and movies ("Star Wars," "Titanic," "24") that he has trained the Lilliputians to put on. This is all cute, but it isn't a movie.
For that, "Gulliver's Travels" turns to the tried-and-true storyline of loser-guy-gets-hot-girl. Gulliver's courtship of Darcy, who eventually shows up in Lilliput, parallels a plot involving a Lilliputian commoner (Jason Segel) in love with a Lilliputian princess (Emily Blunt).
At one point, both of these failures-to-launch must prove themselves by doing battle with a "Transformers"-style robot that has been built by the Lilliputians' enemies, the Blefuscians. (In the book, they're called the Blefuscudians. And, no, there wasn't a robot there either.)
The movie, by the way, is in 3-D. Other than enhancing the bathroom humor, it doesn't help.
Contains humor of a scatological and mildly risque nature.