a critiQal film review Land of the Lost (2009)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: A space-time vortex sucks scientist Rick Marshall (Ferrell), his assistant Holly (Friel) and a survivalist Will (McBride) into a world populated by dinosaurs and painfully slow creatures called Sleestaks. With few resources at their disposal, Rick, Holly and Will must rely on their only ally, a primate named Chaka (Taccone), to try to survive long enough to figure out a way back home.

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  • ...despite some comedy from Danny McBride and another dose of bubbly charm by Anna Friel, Will Ferrell (who's even outshone by Matt Lauer playing himself at one point), some bad effects and a promising plot that fades into idiocy early on, all help guarantee this film stays lost.

While Land of the Lost was supposed to be a big Summer movie back in ’09, I never really considered seeing it in theaters (kind of like this year’s Robin Hood (2010)). A Will Ferrell starrer that’s an update on a cheesy 70’s TV show? I could only imagine how bad that could be.

I heard more about it, however, which included noticing co-stars Anna Friel and Danny McBride. Then I saw a preview that looked like it included a few comic sequences, and I figured I’d delegate it to the “possible” on the DVD rental pile.

Of course, with our Blockbuster® subscription, we never seemed to lack on movies that had captured our interest more thoroughly, so Land of the Lost was forgotten. Now that we are relying on redbox®, however, we discovered that all of our more favored options were out of the running (Avatar (2009) chief among them, not available until May 18th on redbox®). After at least 5 other choices were not available, we settled on Land of the Lost.

Would this chance selection be a surprisingly funny tour de force by Ferrell, or would not even Friel and McBride be able to save Ferrell’s latest from the dung heap?

Aside from an unexpectedly impressive performance in Stranger Than Fiction (2006), viewers have come to expect a certain type of character from Will Ferrell, His latest, Dr. Rick Marshall, with his tendency to pretend to be overly macho while hiding his “little girl” side, while overacting in a pathetic attempt to make people like him, could easily be transplanted into any of Will’s other dumb comedies (Step Brothers (2008), Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)). Of course, that’s what Ferrell fans want, so his performance in Land of the Lost is – to them at least – a relief. More discerning viewers, on the other hand, will be disappointed once again by Ferrell’s complete inability to play another character.

Anna Friel and Danny McBride, on the other hand, are perfectly suited for their roles in Land of the Lost. Anna Friel’s bubbly Chuck was a big part of “Pushing Daisies” (TV) appeal. She brings an accented version of the character to this odd plain, and shows that she is as enticing as ever – even when paired up with an oaf like Ferrell. Danny McBride, who usually shines in really bad films, provides most of the actual laughter generated, helping to make up for the dead silences when Ferrell tries to crack a joke.

Unfortunately, the plot is just stupid, plain and simple. Sure, it starts out decently enough – a scientist trying to prove his crazy theory actually becomes trapped by what he’s predicted. But the way it plays out on screen is simply ludicrous. Whether it’s a grad student who becomes infatuated with who even she admits is the laugh of the science community, or a bizarre world where giant lizards speak English but monkey people don’t, or a world where three people can stand out in the open and watch a horde of dinosaurs chew apart an ice cream salesman less than 15 feet away without even being noticed except by the stink of one of their crew, the idiocies of the plot continue to glare out at the viewer every few moments.

The special effects both hurt and hinder Land of the Lost. While the dinos themselves are done with such a flair as to make Spielberg proud, the Sleestaks (the lizard people) look to be exactly as they did on the show – obviously actors in rubber suits (a point not missed by the film, as 2 of the cast members don these rubber suits at one point, calling them “skin”). On top of that, they keep that vibe going with a monkey person who looks to be borrowing a rather worn Planet of the Apes (1968) costume, and it just gets weirder.

With such a disparity, it’s obvious the gross under-representation of an impressive Sleestak or a monkey person was intended, but the question is: why? Did they actually think these 70’s era rejects would only garner attention from fans of the original show if they weren’t updated, or what? It just doesn’t make sense.

With a plot that merges on idiocy at times (and spends the rest of the time over the edge), it’s expected the actors won’t perform up to par. Toss in a few scenes that should have been left on the cutting room floor (a narcotic flower sequence that drags on for ages immediately comes to mind), and viewers won’t be expecting much from the actors. While Will underwhelmingly lives up to those meager expectations (even being upstaged at one point in the film by a cameo appearance by Matt Lauer as himself), McBride’s occasional actually funny utterances and Friel’s charm outshine the film around them, leaving them the highlights in this disaster of a film.

Unfortunately, those two decent performances (1 and 1/2 really, as McBride does fall over the edge into idiocy a few times during the film) only serve to make the film more disjointed, leaving the viewer with a strange film that teeters between idiocy and comedy – and usually isn’t able to walk a straight line.

Keep this one off your rental list – despite McBride and Friel (and briefly, Matt Lauer), this Land should stay lost.

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