Review: ‘Land of the Lost’ (2009)

Which is more likely to pack theaters, a film based on an obscure Saturday morning television show or Will Farrell injecting his farcical brand of comedy into the mix? I know I’ve said this once before or something like it, but this would be the coolest movie I’d ever seen if I were eight years old.

Dr. Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell) hasn’t been too popular in the scientific community since he proposed that a tachyon accelerator could open doorways into alternate dimensions, kind of like time traveling, only sideways. When Cambridge scholar Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel) reveals evidence that Rick’s theories may be correct, she convinces him to try his untested device out on a promising location, a road-side attraction run by Will Stanton (Danny McBride). Faster than you can say “time warps,” all three are plunged into a strange land with artifacts from the past, present, and future “all mashed together.” Or, put another way, “Matt Lauer can suck it.”

Okay, from that last line, you may have guessed that this is a bit PG-13. In fact, the entire production takes the absurdity of Sid and Marty Krofft’s 1970s show “The Land of the Lost” and calls attention to that point. For it to work as it had originally, the characters might have had to take on a unfathomable innocence or naivety to get away with. Highlighting the absurdity with a torch held high by comedian Will Farrell actually works even if it feels a bit forced, but one can’t help but wonder if a more serious version wouldn’t have been better (and made fans of the classic show happier), possibly even in the hands of someone like Terry Gilliam (Time Bandits anyone?)

It’s understandable why even the creators themselves, the Krofft brothers, didn’t want their property taken too seriously. But with today’s special effects, iconic imagery such as the Sleestack pylons, “Grumpy” the T-Rex, and even the “time warp” itself look good enough to suspend disbelief. Farrell’s roles in these kinds of films usually has him playing a character who’s just smart enough to be dangerous while simultaneously being unable to handle the fame he desperately seeks; let the wackiness ensue. The characters aren’t complete idiots, just well-meaning fish out of water, and that’s what sets this particular production as better realized than other films such as The Dukes of Hazzard or Starsky & Hutch.

Some of this film is amusing while some of it is laugh out loud funny. Much of it, however, makes you feel ashamed to be laughing, such as when an entire ice cream truck appears and is promptly ripped apart by dinosaurs, including the hapless ice cream vendor himself (I’m not sure if he even had a speaking line). Sure, it’s ghastly, but also cruelly ironic, right? If you’re thinking about that too hard, this may not be your quasi-dark brand of comedy. In spite of everything created here, there is still a serious “Land of the Lost” tale that perhaps will one day be told, one where the characters are as smart and noble as the innocently original program suggested. But will audiences embrace that version any more than they will this?

(a two and a half skull recommendation)

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