Movie Review: Will Ferrell Goes Into the Wild in 'Land of the Lost'
Friday, June 5, 2009
Soiler alert: Toward the end of the comedy remake of Sid and Marty Krofft's '70s lunchbox leftover, "Land of the Lost," Will Ferrell is eaten by a T. rex and then excreted out the creature's back end. Fans know to interpret this as a personal artistic statement from the actor. It's a metaphor for most of his movies now, and what happens to audiences who go in hoping for another "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" and come out smelling of "Step Brothers" and "Semi-Pro."
We don't actually get to see Ferrell emerge from the dinosaur butt because, in an almost endearing way, this "Land of the Lost" is strangely faithful to the low-budget feel of its Saturday-morning ancestor: It is cheap-looking, if a summertime movie with a budget of around $100 million can still look cheap. The dinosaurs and other beasts here feel like CGI loaners from Spielberg's garage. Ferrell, the beasts and their co-stars all seem itchy to get back to their trailers and make phone calls to their agents. (Who should be called.)
Then again, consider the source material, keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times, and try to have a little fun. "Land of the Lost" is not completely terrible, and it moves briskly and safely, even though its more laugh-worthy bits have already been seen in endless commercials for the movie.
Ferrell is Dr. Rick Marshall, a crackpot scientist in a career slump. His research into "quantum paleontology" has brought only scorn from his peers and a humiliating appearance on the "Today" show. A comely Cambridge graduate student named Holly (Anna Friel) provides some evidence that his theories are valid, and the two set off for a roadside tourist cave purportedly filled with the rare crystals that will power Marshall's homemade time-portal machine, which is a suitcase-size contraption that randomly emits the soundtrack to "A Chorus Line" -- thus admirably providing the punch line for one of only three, count 'em, three gay jokes in the whole movie.
Floating on a raft through the cave, Dr. Marshall and Holly are transported through time-space, along with an unwitting dillweed (Danny McBride as tour guide Will), to a parallel dimension.
Behold the Land of the Lost: part jungle, part desert, part Six Flags -- a junkyard strewn with pop-historical detritus such as lost ocean liners, old motels, wrecked flying saucers and the like. It's inhabited by grouchy dinosaurs, a tribe of zombielike lizard people (the Sleestaks) and, of course, the furry Pakuni known as Chaka (Jorma Taccone), who deservedly gets more laughs than Ferrell.
It seems everyone gets more laughs than Ferrell here, especially McBride, but also a giant mosquito, a vibrating obelisk, a crab and the furry morning anchor host known as Matt Lauer, who makes a delightful -- if unwise -- cameo. Ferrell's doing everything he's always done, having gracelessly perfected the act of spastic bombasticness, playing the oblivious and thoroughly uncool loser who ultimately wins. For all the laughs we've shared together, his comedy style is ossifying before our eyes.
My mind started to drift during "Land of the Lost," when I should have been chuckling at its inanity, as Dr. Marshall and Will trip out on Chaka's inter-dimensional jungle acid while Holly uncovers a sinister Sleestak plot. I wondered: What are we doing here? What year is it again? I have memories of Saturday mornings darkened by hissing Sleestaks, but a fast journey there and back with YouTube quickly disabuses me of any lasting kitsch value in "Land of the Lost," or the need to make it into a movie, even as a naughty stoner comedy. Just because we can remember it doesn't mean we need to cinemafy it, but obviously that battle was lost a while back, around the time "The Dukes of Hazzard" movie came out, the same summer Ferrell was in that bummer "Bewitched."
Still, some of us would like to know how many more moldered reruns from the Me Decade are left to pillage? The original "Land of the Lost" aired from 1974 to 1976 (and was briefly revived in 1991), so it makes sense that Ferrell, who was 7 when it first ran, can lay some Gen-X claim to the decision to fall into this one. But isn't it time to plunder someone else's childhood fodder?
This is my plea to you good-for-nothin' millennials, before someone greenlights "H.R. Pufnstuf": Get busy, unseat Will Ferrell and his ilk, and bring us the "Full House" movie we so richly deserve! Or "Saved by the Bell"? Carmen Sandiego? Anything but this old poop.
Land of the Lost (93 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for crude humor and some cheap gore.