At The Picture Show
'Lost' in time and space
The improv troupe of Ferrell and McBride hits a dead end in 'Land of the Lost'
Land of the Lost
Director: Brad Silberling
Screenplay: Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas, based on the television series
created by Sid and Marty Krofft
Starring: Will Ferrell, Anna Friel, Danny McBride, Jorma Taccone, John Boylan
and Matt Lauer
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 41 minutes
(out of four)
Universal execs couldn't have envisioned this when they acquired the Land of the
Lost property a few years back. Then again, maybe that's exactly what they
wanted - a movie that they couldn't envision, a movie authored and reinvented on
the fly to pull the franchise out of its '70s roots and into something . . . well,
That might explain why they went after the distinctly improvisational team of star
Will Ferrell and writer-director Adam McKay in the first place - both sketch-comedy veterans and the brains behind Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Step
Brothers. Idiosyncratic indie vet Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Spy Kids, El
Mariachi) was reportedly in talks as well - and surely would have put his own spin
In the end, Brad Silberling took the reins, with
Ferrell in tow as his leading man. The result is not so much a reinvention as it is a
comedy sketch that happens to take place on a Land of the Lost set. The basic set-up is still there - dinosaurs, Sleestaks, time-travel, what have you. But those
elements are virtually incidental to the film's driving force - Ferrell and his good
buddy Danny McBride improvising and brainstorming their way through a series
of disconnected comedy sketches, at the expense of pretty much everything else.
That's not to say the film would have worked better in another form or with a
different cast - this certainly could have been worse. But while its blatant
disregard for structure and plotting is almost charming, the material just isn't very
strong. This is like Ferrell and McBride on autopilot. There's a scatological
sketch here, a stoner sketch there, pop culture references and sex jokes scattered
throughout - and not one fastball amongst them.
Ferrell plays Dr. Rick Marshall, a disgraced paleontologist who was run out of the
science community for his theories about traveling between dimensions. Years
later, he has been recruited by his lone supporter, Holly (Anna Friel), to complete
his life's work - and together the two go out in the field to test his theories in a
rundown roadside attraction run by the innocuously sleazy Will Stanton
Needless to say, the three get sucked through a
time warp and into a parallel world, and proceed to half-heartedly explore, evade
danger and fall in love in the middle of a Bo Welch-designed land that a critic
friend of mine described as a "surreal, retro wasteland" - a description I'm stealing
because I couldn't have said it better.
The characters seem gleefully unaware of - or at least indifferent to - their CGI-enhanced surroundings. The movie sometimes plays like that old Whose Line Is it
Anyway? sketch in which the performers had to improvise their way through a
"scene" without seeing what was being projected on the screen behind them.
There's never any sense of danger, but the actors try to use that to their advantage
by playing along with the artificial silliness of it all.
Unfortunately, most of what they have to offer is C-minus material. Despite the
sequences that do work, Silberling proves unable to harness that creative and
improvisational energy into something more fulfilling. Maybe someone like
McKay - a guy without the pure filmmaking chops but who may have felt more at
home with this type of movie - could have pulled it off.
As it is, the resulting film is so disjointed and confused that not even the natural
charisma of its three leads can save it.
Actually, this is an interesting test case for
Ferrell, an actor who typically towers above a film rather than blending into it.
When he's at his funniest, that's fine; in Land of the Lost, it's a handicap. There's
so much of Ferrell doing Ferrell that it hijacks everything else, leaving most of the
movie - particularly the talented Ms. Friel, who has the thankless task of playing
everything straight - without any room to breathe.
Even when he's not doing a variation on the types of roles he perfected in
Anchorman, Ferrell has proven he can blend seamlessly into a role and deliver a
strong performance - Stranger than Fiction, Elf and Melinda and Melinda spring
to mind. In Land of the Lost, however, the seams are showing all over the place.
Read more by Chris Bellamy