LAND OF THE LOST
The surprising thing about Land of the Lost isn't that it contains several hearty laughs; the surprising thing is that it contains any laughs at all. After all, Will Ferrell vehicles are increasingly becoming known for their inability to generate honestly earned guffaws, as the comedian generally calls it a day after establishing an ever-so-slight variation on his idiotic man-child routine and then throwing a couple of on-screen tantrums. Yet the reason this new picture works on occasion is precisely because it isn't a Will Ferrell movie; rather, it's a movie that just happens to star Will Ferrell. During the 1970s, siblings Sid and Marty Krofft produced more cheese than the state of Wisconsin, as they were the creators of such TV kiddie kitsch classics as H.R. Pufnstuf, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters and The Bugaloos. Yet the Saturday morning offering Land of the Lost seems to hold the strongest nostalgic pull for boomers, so it's no wonder we're confronted with this big-screen update. Some major modifications have been made, however: Instead of forest ranger Rick Marshall and his two children accidentally tumbling through a portal that lands them in this alternate prehistoric land, we now have Dr. Rick Marshall (Ferrell), a disgraced scientist, actively studying time-space vortexes in the hopes of being able to visit other eras and places. He gets his wish when he's sucked back into a strange land, with hottie research assistant Holly (Anna Friel) and sarcastic redneck Will (Danny McBride) by his side. There, the three befriend a randy ape-man named Chaka (Jorma Taccone ), steer clear of a rampaging dinosaur, and battle an army of lizardmen known as Sleestaks. Land of the Lost works best when it plays up both the campy nature of the original enterprise and the quirkiness seemingly inspired by ad-libbing between its male stars. That one drug-addled sequence would feel more at home in an old Cheech & Chong flick points out that director Brad Silberling and company have no intention of keeping it all within the confines of a typical summer film for the whole family (indeed, the PG-13 rating gets quite the workout at various junctures). The picture is at its absolute worst when it hands Ferrell the entire spotlight and allows him to do his standard schtick, as in an excruciating sequence whose (predictable) punchline is that the actor's character will drench himself in dino-piss and even take a swig for good measure. Moments such as these threaten to envelop the entire picture with a stench that's impossible to shake. Then suddenly, we're back in the land of the surreal, and the welcome eccentricity cuts through the mundanity like a knife through Brie.
It's what's known as putting matters in perspective. Folks who regularly bash Judd Apatow for his various endeavors need only catch The Hangover to see that it's unfair to dismiss the former's pictures simply because they refuse to always toe the politically correct line. What's more, the majority of Apatow's films benefit from fluid plot developments, interesting characterizations, and gags that remain funny even in retrospect -- conditions not enjoyed by this slapdash effort from the director of the similarly idling Old School. Scripted by the team of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past), The Hangover finds the soon-to-be-married Doug (Justin Bartha) heading to Las Vegas to enjoy a final blowout romp with his three buddies: henpecked Stu (Ed Helms), dimwitted Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and prickish Phil (Bradley Cooper). But after a night of wild partying, the three groomsmen wake up to discover that the husband-to-be is MIA. For reasons later explained, the trio don't recall anything that happened the previous night, so they stumble around Vegas trying to piece the mystery together, a taxing jaunt that puts them in contact with two sadistic cops, a sweet-natured hooker (Heather Graham), and a pissed off Mike Tyson (as himself). That a convicted rapist like Tyson would be showcased in such fawning, reverential fashion ("He's still got it!" admires Stu after the former boxer decks Alan) pretty much reveals the mindsets of the filmmakers and their target demographic. This represents the worst sort of pandering slop, the type that appeases impressionable audiences who don't even realize they're being insulted. It insinuates that practically every man is a shallow asshole who revels in his Neanderthal habits, and that every woman falls into the category of shrew or whore. Again, contrast this with, say, the characters played by Steve Carell and Catherine Keener in The 40-Year-Old Virgin or Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in Knocked Up -- recognizably flawed people who nevertheless remain likable and interesting enough to earn our sympathies. The dipshits on view in this film are neither funny enough nor engaging enough to command our attention as they wander through a series of set-pieces that reek of comic de speration rather then genuine inspiration (as evidenced in Old School and at least three times here, director Todd Phillips seems to believe that seeing a homely man naked is automatically a gut buster). Honestly, if I wanted to hang out with such backward clods, I'd save the ticket price and just go trolling at sports bars or in frat houses.
MY LIFE IN RUINS
Nia Vardalos enjoyed a box office bonanza with the sleeper smash My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but her latest picture, My Life in Ruins, stands no chance of enjoying a similar fate. It's merely one big fat Greek disaster, and it instantly vies with The Informers as the worst picture I've seen thus far this year as we dash toward the halfway mark in the 2009 movie calendar. Vardalos is a charming actress of limited range, and her presence is the only thing tolerable in a movie that's torturous in virtually every other regard. She stars as Georgia, a brainy tour guide who's upset that her latest group consists of nothing but obnoxious louts who would rather lay on the beach and buy tacky souvenirs than listen to her pontificate about magnificent Grecian ruins. That every single tourist in a group designed to explore Greece would be shocked that their guide would actually expect them to, well, explore Greece is only the first of many absurdities found in Mike Reiss' toxic script. The dimwitted tourists themselves are exactly what we'd expect: the loud American couple, the IHOP manager who thinks the ancient columns look like stacks of pancakes, the hot-to-trot Spanish divorcees, the snobbish Brits, etc. Reiss makes them far more stupid than is necessary, with the low point being when a boorish Yank (Harland Williams), while playing golf among the ruins, comments, "I wonder if Jesus ever played here?" Richard Dreyfuss' character, a Jewish widower, is supposed to function as the piece's heart, but even he gets relegated to serving as the punchline for a Viagra gag. This is also the sort of movie in which a character watches TV and the movie being shown is, of course, Zorba the Greek. Because, you know, Greeks don't watch any films besides that one. Georgia eventually loosens up and even finds romance with the hunky tour bus driver (Alexis Georgoulis), yet don't expect this relationship to be treated with any more dignity than anything else in the picture. His name? Poupi Kakas. And his nephew's name? Doudi Kakas. Please don't make me continue; it's just too painful.