A film review by Craig J. Koban

LAND OF THE LOST jjj

2009, PG-13, 93 mins.

 

Dr. Rick Marshall: Will Ferrell / Holly: Anna Friel / Will: Danny McBride / Chaka: Jorma Taccone / Matt Lauer: Himself

Directed by Brad Silberling / Written by Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas.

LAND OF THE LOST is absolutely proof positive that the only way to combat an unrelentingly idiotic and silly premise is to have a lead actor that is able to easily harness all of the film’s unbridled and outlandish weirdness.   

Enter Will Ferrell, whom – more than any other actor working in movies today – takes an absurdist, go-for-broke, and brilliantly wacky and daft improvisational gusto and swings and hits for the rafters every time.  His strength has always been his complete lack of self censorship: he will commit himself to do or say just about anything to get a chuckle from viewers, and that sort of determination is to be commended.  This guy takes self-humiliation to a whole new level – he simply does not care how imbecilic he comes across. 

Just consider a few key moments in LAND OF THE LOST that would have – if performed by a different actor – come off as a series of tired and monotonous special effects action sequences.  In one sly and uproarious scene Ferrell’s "quantum paleontologist", Rick Marshall, is being chased by a ravenous, man hungry T-Rex (don’t ask for the particulars now).  Just as the dino starts to make its attack the hapless doctor exclaims, “Yes!  He is definitely in predator mode now!”  He and his friends flee, but they do not seem to be gaining much ground, which leads to his partner (Danny McBride) asking him why he is wearing “high heel shoes,” to which Marshall deadpans back, “These are not high heel shoes.  There are my Florsheim zipper boots!  Even more hysterical is when he decides to strategize about getting away from the prehistoric behemoth...while being chased by it: Just as the T-Rex is closing in, Ferrell hilariously deadpans, “I will run in a serpentine pattern, which will make it incapable of rapid course correction.”  The dino rather easily catches and nabs the dimwitted Professor. 

You see?  That’s the Ferrellian touch.  With another dime-a-dozen actor, these scenes would have been woefully perfunctory.  Contrastingly, with Ferrell fully on board and engaging is his giddy and guffaw-inducing improvisational wit, he turns these moments into small, absurd, and logic-skewed comic gems.  LAND OF THE LOST utilizes Ferrell for what he’s best at: playing loveable, but intellectually bankrupt fools that find themselves in the most impractical situations possible.  Sure, Ferrell does not stray away from his comedic well here, but when he’s giving free reign to put his comedic foot to the pedal, he’s a frequent and unstoppable laugh-a-minute force. 

This is the same Ferrell that – as a depressed divorcee trying to reclaim his youth in OLD SCHOOL - crashed a children's birthday party by accidentally shooting himself in the jugular with a horse tranquilizer gun.  This is the same Ferrell that - as an clueless, misogynistic news man in ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY – told an aspiring female reporter to her face that she was a "pirate hooker" with a pee-sized brain that should go back to "whore island" where she belongs.  Yes, this is the same Ferrell that – as an aging pro Basketball player in SEMI PRO – told a capacity crowed to flee for their lives and to use children as human shields to wield off a rampaging grizzly bear, seeing as the bear “loves tasty and tender young meat.”  Yes, this is the same Ferrell that – as a bumbling red necked race car drive in TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY – stabbed himself in the leg to prove to his incredulous buddies that he was paralyzed, but then recoiled in fist biting horror and pain when he realized that he is not.  So, when I saw this same unrelentingly capricious spirit run fully amok throughout LAND OF THE LOST, I found it next-to-impossible to not chuckle all the way through it.  It’s Ferrell's very innate and infectious nonsensicality and penchant for self-debauchery that makes the sheer preposterous of LAND OF THE LOST tolerable. 

Perhaps this was the only way to remake a children’s television series that was legendary for its epic scale concept and incredibly strange plot, but almost more so for its bargain bin production values.  Instead of going for the big-budget, glossy sheen and serious tone that was ill-fitted for other past movie adaptations of classic, family sci-fi shows (like LOST IN SPACE), this one goes for all out laughs (like, say, how STARSKY AND HUTCH went for parody), which is the precise and wise choice.  In the original series (mostly unseen by me) that ran from 1974-1976 the main character was a park ranger father that had two children that were zapped to a mysterious, interdimensional world (kind of a place where the past, present and future coalesce) via a dimensional portal (what else?).  The film bares very little, if any, resemblance to the kiddie show, other than in terms of its basic premise, but this time instead of a father and two children we get Will Ferrell and Danny McBride in full man-child mode.  No need for kids when you got the likes of those two inspired talents acting like infants throughout the entire film.  Thankfully, they do have a straight man (or in this case, woman) to round out the trio nicely. 

As mentioned, Ferrell plays a “quantum paleontologist” that is, as would be expected, the laughing stock of the scientific community, not to mention the media as a whole.  During a sidesplitting opening sequence - played by Ferrell to idiotic crescendos - he is being interviewed on the The Today Show by Matt Lauer (played by the real Lauer).  Dr. Marshall has stated that he has discovered a way to avoid the new energy crisis.  Lauer responds to that statement by asking, “Renewable biofuels?”  Marshall replies, “No.  Time Warps."  A befuddled Lauer then informs the crazy Marshall that the scientific world – especially Stephen Hawking – thinks he’s a loon.  Marshall, in a juvenile tantrum, rips off his microphone and screams, “You promised you would not bring him up!”  When Lauer makes a sarcastic jab at the shamed scientist as he’s walking off the set, Marshall runs back and lunges himself at Lauer in a spiteful rage. 

Trying to forget about The Today Show incident, Marshall takes his pompous, overzealous, and Matt Lauer hating passion back to the lab, hoping to make a breakthrough.  He tries to make a tachyon amplifier, which will, of course, amplify tachyons in hopes of creating time warps.  He is befriended only by one person, a fellow British scientist named Holly (the very fetching and lovely Anna Friel) who thinks that Marshall is an unfairly chastised genius.  Well, that takes a real stretch for any person, seeing as Holly first meets Marshall just after he has, by his own admission, eaten himself into a food coma out of his frustration with his project. 

Marshall and Holly decide to test out his new and improved tachyon machine in a tachyon-plentiful cave.  Accompanying them is a sarcastic jackass-loner named Will (Danny McBride, effectively playing this comedic role in his sleep) and the group heads into one of the caves and – Great Odin’s Raven! – the machine works and the trio are whisked away to the “Land of the Lost”, which is filled with exotic plant life, physical landmarks and remnants of Earth’s past and present, temperamental and grumpy dinosaurs, telepathic reptilian aliens hell bent on earth’s subjugation, and a newfound ally that takes the form of a half human, half ape boy primate named Chaka (the totally unrecognizable Jorma Taccone, who was bizarrely hilarious in all of those Lonely Island digital shorts with partner Andy Samberg).  Oh…there are also show tunes, and this film marks the very first time in film history that a jingle from A CHORUS LINE was used as a method to escape a dinosaur’s lair. 

On a weak side, there is not much of an actual and sustained plot in LAND OF THE LOST, but the film exists primarily as a comic vehicle for Ferrell and company.   The CGI special effects look, oddly enough, both polished and hopelessly fake, which I think is the intention here, which helps to accentuate the film’s laughs.   The aforementioned sequence involving Ferrell trying to outrun – on numerous occasions – a mighty p-oed T-Rex is tirelessly amusing, and even more creepily hilarious is a moment when Ferrell thinks he has found a method to ensure that the dinosaur cannot locate him: he showers himself all over his body with dino pee.  When he does this, he predictably squints his eyes, smacks his lips, and shows a cringe-worthy confusion on his face.  Then, to the dismay of his friends and to the audience, he decides to dose himself yet again, hoping that it will provide even more camouflage, not to mention stopping the intense stinging in his eyes from the first urine shower, to which he cry outs, “That immediately did not help at all!”  He also has a disturbingly funny moment when a gargantuan mosquito proceeds to suck most of his blood out of his body (“Man, I am getting really weak for some reason"), later revealing a mosquito bite the size of a watermelon on his back.  Ferrell may not have a sense of tact and decorum, but he goes well past normal levels to make us laugh: he’s a willing charlatan. 

McBride, as Ferrell’s partner in comedic crime here, also generates considerable laughs, mostly in reaction shots, even though he essentially plays the straight man responding to most of Ferrell’s bumbling and buffoon-like antics as any normal person would.  I don’t think that the film utilizes Jorma Taccone as the creature Chaku very well, who essentially grunts and groans his way through the film (but he does occupy a very funny moment when he shows how capable he is a singing in one crucial sequence).  Anna Friel, a very infectious and attractive screen presence, does her job as competently as possible, which means that she has to keep a resolute and straight face throughout all of Ferrell and McBride’s carnival-like antics, serve as Chaku’s interpreter, look dolefully into Marshall’s eyes, and – thankfully – look really good in tiny little shorts and a revealing tank top.  She facilitates herself as a half-baked love interest for Marshall, which never is really developed, but after sitting through 90 minutes of talk about tachyon-harnessing time warps, quantum paleontology, show tune loving pterodactyls, salivating lizard people, and how Matt Lauer – to quote Marshall – can “suck it”, you kind of just have to go with the film.  After awhile, I found myself uncontrollably laughing too much to care. 

Conceited and intellectually priggish critics have complained that LAND OF THE LOST is unforgivably dumb and too aggressively strange to be worth one’s time.  Well…call me (as Matt Lauer would) "out of my freakin' mind"...but of course it’s dumb and weird…and gloriously so.  Here’s a film that stockpiles the silliness and sequences of uninhibited craziness like it were going out of style and it maintains a level of free-wheeling, jubilant, throw caution to the wind energy and that just kind of grew on me.  The film is not as sloppy and ill-conceived as many have let on: If anything, it’s a modest triumph of whacked out ribaldry, and it certainly demonstrates how a supremely gifted – and uninhibited – funny man like Ferrell can elevate what could have been a pure, B-grade level TV adaptation.  Not every scene is comically assured (a unruly and annoyingly long sequence involving Ferrell and McBride in a drugged out stupor from some toxic coconut drink goes on forever and is drawn out to inane lengths), but the film hits a strong hilarity quotient often enough for a recommendation.  A film as perplexing and abnormally offbeat like LAND OF THE LOST needs a similar performance sensibility to channel it.  Ferrell does just that in spades.  

The rest of the critics can "suck it."

   

REVIEW ADDENDUM

If there is one truly negative aspect of LAND OF THE LOST then it would be its shameless and somewhat fraudulent advertising campaign - in TV commercials and in film trailers - as a kid-friendly film.  

Far from it.  LAND OF THE LOST has been rated PG-13 for "crude and sexual content, foul language, and drug references."  This is most certainly not a family film: parents be warned.

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