Friday, June 5, 2009

EXAMINER #4: 'Land of the Lost' is worth a visit

I never thought I’d type the following sentence but I’m glad I have the chance to now. “Land of the Lost” was good. Believe me, I’d been as skeptical about Universal and Brad Silberling’s bigscreen take on Sid and Marty Krofft’s cult TV series as the rest of the Internet, but “LOTL” is just pure, undeniable summer fun.
The appropriately off-kilter screenplay is surprisingly adult without taking itself too seriously, and stars Will Ferrell, Danny McBride and Anna Friel have a nice, easy chemistry that makes for an appealing trio on which to hang a very simple CGI-fueled adventure story.
I can remember watching “Land of the Lost” on TV when I was a kid but its theme song was the most memorable thing about the show, so I had no particular attachment to or nostalgia for the original series. The film still follows Dr. Rick Marshall (now a quantum paleontologist) but the screenplay turns his kids, Will and Holly, into grown-up characters. Lovable man-child Will Ferrell plays Marshall while Anna Friel co-stars as brainy hottie Holly, a Cambridge student who has closely followed Marshall’s career. The two eventually meet up with desert hick Will (Danny McBride) who’s just happy to be along for the wild ride.
Ferrell has made a career out of playing wacky characters, but while Dr. Marshall is certainly eccentric, he actually seems like one of Ferrell’s more “normal” roles. With a limited supporting cast, Ferrell is forced to do a lot of heavy lifting over the course of the picture, and he really finds the appeal in the character’s kooky panic and bizarre confidence.
McBride can always be counted on to wring the most laughs out of restrained material. Remember, he was one of few bright spots in “Drillbit Taylor.” McBride operates best in R-rated mode but thank God he’s around to keep the PG-13 crowd off-balance on its toes. Watching him and Ferrell duet on Cher’s “Believe” has to be seen to be, uh, believed.
I’m not as familiar with Friel, having never seen her work on “Pushing Daisies,” but she manages to not get in the way of the Ferrell/McBride laugh locomotive, and when she gets opportunities to shine, she takes advantage of them, none more so than during the trio’s introduction to the love-him-or-hate-him Chaka (Jorma Taccone), whose hands have a habit of roaming Holly’s chest throughout the film.
Chaka is used as an effective comic device for most the running time, the highlight of which was his “Chorus Line” bit, but there were several moments where he just felt annoying and superfluous, like a hairy Jar Jar Binks. The film’s T-Rex, on the other hand, strikes just the right tone of menacing silliness as the trio’s antagonist-turned-savior.
I won’t bother making excuses for the film’s lame villain and his army of non-threatening Sleestaks, or its ridiculous plot, which is just plain stupid, but thankfully story and logic are beside the point. It’s fun, weird and well designed by Bo Welch, and it ends just as the characters begin to wear out their welcome. The score was also excellent, so it came as no surprise when Michael Giacchino’s name popped up during the very cool end credit sequence, which I thought belonged at the beginning of the film. Speaking of which, both “LOTL” and last week’s “Drag Me to Hell” featured an old school Universal logo and very similar-looking title cards, with two words bigger than the other, in the same quadrants of the screen. Of course in “LOTL,” the old logo is a clever reminder that the “Lost” of the title refers to nostalgia, hence the Cher and “Chorus Line” bits, among other thinly veiled references to geographic landmarks and pop culture icons.
“Land of the Lost” may seem like the movie to bring your kids to this weekend but I also think its not-so-subliminal stoner humor plays to an older, hipper crowd that will appreciate zany sequences like the one where Rick and Will play Marco Polo after ingesting a hallucinatory substance.
Most critics have been giving “LOTL” a tough time but I think if you go in with modest expectations like I did, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Just don’t expect the same old family-friendly formula because this is one strange movie.

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