Reviewer: Movie not a total loss

Posted: Thursday, June 11, 2009

'Land of the Lost'

Universal Pictures

1 hour, 41 minutes

Growing up, I watched a lot of cartoons on Saturday morning. I remember clearly the anticipation on Friday night, looking forward to awaking around 6 a.m., pouring a big bowl of cereal, and sitting six inches in front of a flickering tube, half covered in a blanket, rapt at the adventures of Bugs Bunny, the Smurfs, and Spidey and Friends.

Eventually, of course, I realized the joys of sleeping in, and since my son is too young yet to really clue in to a cartoon regimen, I have lost all sense of what kind of cartoons they have today. I know what they don't have, however. The mid-1970s produced one of the strangest Saturday morning kid's shows of all time, the live-action "Land of the Lost," and I never missed an episode. What a weird concept -- three people, Marshall, Will, and Holly, are out for a rafting trip (or a "routine expedition," as the song goes) when out of nowhere they find themselves plunging down the world's largest waterfall into a strange world of dinosaurs, cavemen, and crystal worshipping weirdo-lizard people called Sleestaks.

Not the past, exactly, and not the future, it was simply the land of the lost. The show was fairly short-lived, but I never forgot it. Apparently my generation is now in the movie making business, because there's a few people in Hollywood who remember it too. Will Ferrell brings to life Dr. Rick Marshall in this week's big-screen adaptation of the quirky kid's adventure series.

"Land of the Lost" isn't necessarily a bad movie, but it's certainly not a rollicking success either. Taking off on the admittedly sketchy premise of the TV show, the current "Land" casts Marshall as a particle physicist whose insistence on the subject of time travel has made him the laughing stock of the scientific community. It's only the appearance of Holly, a British graduate student and Marshall-acolyte, that spurs our hero to try out the machine he invented to tap into natural warps in the space/time continuum.

One of these warps just happens to be nearby, inside a cheesy roadside attraction called Devil's Cave, run by Will, a trashy burnout who dreams of building a fabulous casino in the middle of nowhere. Those dreams will have to be put on hold, however, because when Marshall fires up his machine, space and time open up and swallow the three whole, spitting them out onto a bizarre landscape peppered with broken pieces of history. The Golden Gate Bridge sits next to a fallen Statue of Liberty and a 1950s-era doughnut shop.

Wonder turns to terror when a hungry tyrannosaur arrives on the scene giving our intrepid adventurers good reason to take flight. What follows is a series of comedic escapades aimed at the retrieval of the lost time machine and a return to Earth. Too bad the comedy wasn't more comedic.

The original television show was strictly action/adventure. Sure there were laughs from time to time, but mostly it was clay-mation mayhem and wheezing baddies in lizard costumes. With Will Ferrell in the lead, "Land of the Lost," the movie, is definitely a comedy, but, try as it might, it just doesn't stick enough of the jokes.

One possible reason is that the tone is off. The comedy is a little edgy, a little raunchy, and fairly scatological. Some of this works, but I kept thinking, "Wasn't this a show for kids?" Much of the adult content seems inappropriate, somehow. Not wildly offensive, but just wrong nonetheless.

The rest of the writing is merely mediocre. It amounts to mostly mild chuckles, and only two really funny moments, one at the beginning and one at the end, both involving, oddly, Matt Lauer, who proves he can be a sport.

On the other hand, this movie looks slick. The effects are top-notch, and fairly creative. The production designers really manage to deliver a detailed and vivid fantasy environment, while still paying homage to the cheesy effects and sets of the original.

In the end, what disturbed me the most was an element to the film that seems to have creeped in from a dozen other films I've seen over the last few years, many with Ferrell and/or co-star Danny McBride. There's a sense of arrested development with these characters, even when it's not explicitly portrayed. The attitude is that all men between the ages of 30 and 40 simply want to lay around, drinking, eating junk food and vegetating. There's no drive, no real responsibility.

This movie isn't some kind of sci-fi rehash of "Step Brothers" or "Pineapple Express," but the characters don't feel that far removed. Will Ferrell is supposed to have a Ph.D. in some pretty difficult disciplines, and I didn't believe it for a moment. Now, it's a comedy, so who cares, I guess, but if we Generation X-ers aren't careful, we're going to produce a whole generation who thinks the ideal of the adult slacker is the thing to be.

If that happens, who's going to take care of us? Then we'll really be lost.

Grade: C

"Land of the Lost" is rated PG-13 for crude humor, language, sci-fi violence, and sexual references.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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