Will Ferrell & Danny McBride in Land of the Lost
Like him or not (I like him), Will Ferrell remains at the mercy of his material.
Is it sheer luck that "Blades of Glory" was so much funnier than "Semi-Pro"? No. Luck had nothing to do with it. "Blades of Glory" had jokes, pacing, dryly assured direction and the right comic attitude. "Semi-Pro" felt lazy and off-kilter and sour.
Ferrell may well shoulder the blame for "Land of the Lost," even if he doesn't deserve it.
He did, however, willingly participate in this coarse, sloppy big-screen version of the old Saturday-morning time-warp adventure, the one with the stop-motion Silly Putty dinosaurs and the three moons, which ran from 1974 through 1977.
The series came from Sid and Marty Krofft, cheery schlockmeisters who delivered unto the airwaves the contact high known as "H.R. Pufnstuf."
It's no surprise that "Land of the Lost" goes in for various trippy detours, including a scene in which "quantum paleontologist" Rick Marshall, played by Ferrell, gets good and stoned with his fellow space-time-continuum traveler Will (Danny McBride) and the ape-man known as Chaka (Jorma Taccone).
It's one of the few successful bits in a film that doesn't mind making you wait for 'em.
The other one I liked involves Ferrell's professor dumping a huge container of dinosaur urine over his head, as "protection" from a marauding T. rex. Then, to the disgust of his cohorts Will and Holly (Anna Friel), he does it again, to see if his eyes will stop stinging. Ferrell's reliably funny when committing, with full and misguided belief, to an act of stupidity. Unfortunately, committing to this script constituted the same sort of act.
I missed the series entirely, so matters of fidelity to the original mean nothing to me.
Which leaves us with matters of funny.
The way Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas lay out their script, "Land of the Lost" is all happenstance and wandering around and random chaos. Ferrell's obnoxious character, disgraced for his cockamamie theories, travels to a desert cave on a routine expedition, the one heralded in song, with that unsettling "Deliverance" banjo, in the TV show's theme.
A massive earthquake plunges him, his seedy tour guide and comely fellow researcher into an alternate universe where past, present, future are all mooshed together (though the director, Brad Silberling, does little with this notion). They encounter dinos and alien zombie lizard minions known as Sleestaks, plus some mumbo-jumbo involving crystals and a climax that goofs on both "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."
The movie is 90 minutes of bickering and blase under-reaction to outrageous events, interrupted by gross-out scraps such as Ferrell's run-in with an enormous mosquito, which ends with a tremendous amount of blood and guts. Friel, a considerable talent, has little to do besides model her hiking shorts and perform slack-jawed nonverbal reactions to getting felt up by Chaka or slimed by McBride's misfit tour guide. (Parents expecting an all-ages adventure may be in for a surprise.) The doughy, indistinct McBride strikes me as one of Hollywood's clearest examples of someone being luckier than he is talented.
Matt Lauer of "The Today Show" appears in bookend scenes, wrangling with Ferrell. "You're spending $50 million on time warps?" he asks. The natural, unasked follow-up: You spent $100 million on "Land of the Lost"?
"Land of the Lost" Movie Trailer
Land of the Lost MPAA rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, and for language including a drug reference).
Running time: 1:33.
Starring: Will Ferrell (Dr. Rick Marshall); Danny McBride (Will Stanton); Anna Friel (Holly Cantrell); Jorma Taccone (Chaka).
Directed by Brad Silberling;
Written by Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas, based on the Sid and Marty Krofft TV series;
Produced by Jimmy Miller and Sid and Marty Krofft.
A Universal Pictures release.
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