Film Review | Sunday, 06 September 2009
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Lost in translation

There is something scarily irresistible about Will Ferrell’s face. It’s those twinkly eyes, which would look handsome on a mug less squarish and bloated. It’s the blank smile that appears occasionally, though his lips are usually set in a sombre mould as his absurdly pompous characters are normally delivered straight, amplifying their hilarity.
The Saturday Night Live graduate whom you will possibly remember as Mustafa from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery has now established himself as a key player in Hollywood, being a member of the unofficially monickered ‘Frat Pack’, a group that includes Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson and other comic stalwarts emerging from the nineties, having largely cut their teeth on Saturday Night Live and appeared in lucrative college-themed comedies. But I think his success was secured the second a camera homed in on that face. It is a perfectly poised powder keg of comedy; all the disparate elements cohere to invite ridicule and absurdity. And Land of the Lost’s Rick Marshall ranks pretty high on the insufferable loser list, so much so that he may just deserve a seat alongside The Office’s David Brent – Ricky Gervais’ inimitable though cringe-worthy creation – in the Naffness Hall of Fame. After being kicked out of the science department of his university thanks to his outlandish theories on time warps, a disgrace that was exacerbated by his attack of The Today Show’s Matt Lauer, Marshall is approached by Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel), who encourages him to finish his ‘tachyon amplifer’, and suggests that they follow a lead to the Devil’s Cave, an amusement park led by Will Stanton (Danny R. McBride). Once there, they discover a loophole into another world, populated by dinosaurs and a dangerous army of ‘Sleestak’, green humanoid creatures under the command of an evil overlord. As the trio (or, specifically, the bumbling know-it-all Marshall) manage to incur the wrath of a T-Rex they nickname Grumpy, lose the tachyon amplifier and befriend Chaka (a simian creature they rescue from execution, played by Jorma Taccone), they are embroiled in a mission to save the Universe by a suspiciously be-tunic’d alien scientist Enik (John Boylan), who sends them on a quest to retrieve the amplifier across perilous terrain in an attempt to avert intergalactic catastrophe.

Ostensibly a remake of the beloved 1974 children’s programme, Brad Silberling’s (City of Angels, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events) film is more of a parody of the original show which, in the vein of the Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson starring Starsky and Hutch, seems to want to walk that middle ground between spoof and earnest adventure, effectively attempting to have the cake and eat it. What ensues is, inevitably, a patchy experience. No slackness is evident on the technical front, however. The hokey amusement park feel of the series is transported into the noughties thanks to an excellent CGI team, though the art direction deserves most of the credit, as great care is taken to tap into the endearing kitsch that is the trademark stamp of the television series. The Sleestak antagonists are not men in green rubber suits, but digital reproductions of men in rubber suits. And therein lies the film’s ethos: in updating the look of the series, it attempts to cash in on the nostalgia brought about by its very creakiness. Predictably, Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas’ script plays as if it’s been written in five minutes after a heavy session with the bong. While its inconsequentiality is not necessarily a bad thing – if anything it relaxes you into accepting the relentless wackiness of the world – there is something undeniably crass about stuffing a family-friendly property with profanity, references to sex and exotic drug taking and expecting the project to float on that basis, helped by Will Ferrell offering up his tried-and-tested schtick. It never quite achieves that wonderful balance Shrek had: where the adult and kid appeal was divided more or less 50/50, neither is it a completely daring, gross-out reinvention (it was edited down to PG-13 from an R-rating). Which kind of leaves you wondering as to what its target audience is. Sadly, it doesn’t appear to have one at all: at the time of writing, it has made just over half of its $100 million budget.


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