Somewhere in Hollywood there’s a bulletin board covered in note cards describing the very funny gags in “Land of the Lost,” a big-budget remake of the 1970s Sid and Marty Krofft kids’ TV show. Unfortunately, no one bothered to sit down and write a script that would string all these free-floating jokes into a cohesive movie.
Even those without fond memories of the cheesy original had high hopes for the first big-screen pairing of Will Ferrell and Danny McBride — Ferrell championed McBride’s dark comedy “The Foot Fist Way” and was instrumental in getting it a theatrical release — but the two comics’ efforts are swallowed up in a gargantuan, special-effects–heavy extravaganza that winds up being amusing but overbearing.
Ferrell stars as Dr. Rick Marshall, a scientist convinced that time warps exist that can allow entry to parallel dimensions. He becomes an international joke after scrapping with Matt Lauer on the TODAY show, and several years later, he’s reduced to guiding tours of the LaBrea Tar Pits. But when British grad student Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel), a believer in Marshall’s theories, turns up, they decide to build and test his dimension-spanning device.
For some reason — having to do with “crystals” and “readings” and other explanations the movie rushes through as quickly as possible — they test the device at the tacky Devil’s Canyon, one of those “mystery caves” that advertises along the sides of freeways. Their tour guide, redneck Will Stanton (McBride) takes them on a boat ride through the cave when an earthquake hits and sends the three of them careening down a waterfall into the titular dimension.
If you spent Saturday mornings watching the show, you know what comes next: The trio befriends local hominid Chaka (Jorma Taccone, co-creator of all those catchy Adam Samberg digital shorts), fights off the lizardy alien Sleestaks, and tries desperately to get home.
It’s not that “Land of the Lost” is devoid of humor or adventure: Two running gags (one with Lauer and the other involving, of all things, “A Chorus Line”) build to satisfying payoffs, and there are laughs and thrills to be had courtesy of a mean-tempered T-Rex with a personal dislike of Dr. Marshall. Ultimately, though, the film feels like a series of ideas thrown at the wall, with only some of them sticking.
For every sequence that works — like the part where Chaka gets Rick and Will high off a narcotic plant (one gets the impression that director Brad Silberling just let the cameras roll for hours while the three actors riffed like crazy) — there’s plenty more that don’t. Unfortunately, most of those involve the talented Friel, so brilliant on the late and lamented “Pushing Daisies,” since the movie obviously doesn’t know what to do with her. When Holly declares her love for Rick, he’s shocked, but then so is the audience, since we’ve been given no indication of it before then.
Ferrell — who once played a character named “Marshall Willenholly” in Kevin Smith’s “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” — gets some of his patented moments (running around semi-nude, obnoxiously insisting that Chaka call him “Doctor” Rick Marshall), but he seems to be flummoxed over playing a character who’s a jerk but not a complete idiot. Marshall’s crackpot theories do wind up being true, after all, so he can’t be a total moron. McBride and Jaccone (who previously teamed in the underappreciated “Hot Rod”) seem game but also slightly constrained by the film’s PG-13 rating, given that their best work is usually more on the adult side.
Oh, and parents, take note: This may be an adaptation of a kids’ show, but the jokes involving drugs and the male cast members feeling up Friel’s breasts may make it less than suitable for younger viewers.
The low-budget but wildly creative output of the Kroffts seems perfect for the big screen to take seriously (the shows tapped into children’s fear of abandonment and displacement) or to parody (the “Lost” film version makes ample note of the fact that the Sleestaks move really slowly), but “Land of the Lost” doesn’t quite do either. The end product feels like a summer-movie horse that a committee of creative input has turned into a lopsided dromedary.
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