More rudely silly than funny, action-comedy Land of the Lost is staged with color and a fair amount of forward-moving energy, but not much in the way of inventiveness or surprise. A big screen adaptation of the mid-1970s time-traveling children’s show of the same name, the movie is scant on plot but heavy on scatological humor, and over-relies on the well-worn performance shtick of star Will Ferrell. Like an early morning mist from its quasi-primordial setting, the result — tonally consistent, but consistently underwhelming — dissipates immediately upon conclusion, and doesn’t hold a candle to its star’s stronger efforts, like Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
Three years after a flame-out on an early morning TV show, Dr. Rick Marshall (Ferrell) finds himself teaching middle school, his outlandish theories about time travel discredited. Graduate student Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel) finds him, and questions Rick about a particular unrealized invention. Rick slaps together a prototype machine, and he and Holly head to a dusty tourist-trap cave in the desert to test it, where they meet hillbilly proprietor Will Stanton (Danny McBride).
On their tour, the trio plunge down a waterfall and into a sort of hybrid alternate dimension, neither fully past nor present, where dinosaurs roam an apocalyptic wasteland littered with artifacts both historical and incidental. Stalked by a Tyrannosaurus Rex they call Grumpy (for his murderous disposition), the group finds an unlikely friend in a primate named Chaka (Jorma Toccone), whose primitive language Holly happens to speak. Standing in their way of finding Rick’s machine and getting home is a mass of reptilian Sleestaks, including one with designs on world domination.
If there’s a unifying success to Land of the Lost, it comes from the manner in which director Brad Silberling ably juggles its action mayhem with comedy, all under the banner of a single visual scheme. For all the intensity of its dino-rampaging, the movie’s visual effects all have a similarly shimmery, slightly welcoming feel — neither totally terrifying nor kitschy. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t give Silberling much with which to work. The television experience of scripters Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas shows in a number of dawdling sequences. Changing the dynamic of the three main characters (it was a father and his two children on the TV show) would seemingly open up rich new avenues for comedic tension, but instead seems only designed to allow for the groping of Friel’s breasts. There’s neither enough rooted bickering friction nor cohesive cooperation to form a substantive connection to this motley crew; the characters are merely collective prisoners of a field trip through special effects.
Few actors do blithely self-centered, not entirely earned confidence as well as Ferrell, and that familiar spin he puts on Rick brings a few fitful smiles. Much of the film eschews his penchant for serial physical debasement, but, as if satisfying the request of a besotted audience member at an improv show, the filmmakers cram in a scene where Rick rolls up his shorts and tiptoes by pterodactyl eggs. Later again, there’s Ferrell in familiar shirtless mode, this time during a puzzlingly elongated poolside sequence which feels like a narrative placeholder for some other action, accidentally never actualized. For the full, original review, from Screen International, click here. (Universal, PG-13, 103 minutes)