I don’t blame Universal for trying to sell “Land of the Lost” as a family film. This is a big-budget summer movie based on a campy 70s TV show and so you’re going to highlight the T-Rex and maybe Will Ferrell dumping a vat of dinosaur urine over his head. What you won’t highlight is a scene where Ferrell’s character whispers to Cha-Ka the ape-boy, “Fuck you.” It’s clear that this movie was conceived of as a subversive, R-rated comedy and Universal said, “Are you bugfuck insane? We’re not spending a hundred million dollars on that!” The compromise is a film that you’re not expecting even if you can totally predict its lead actor.
After a disastrous interview with Matt Lauer on “The Today Show”, Dr. Rick Marshall (Ferrell) is reduced to championing his theory of parallel universes available through his Tachyon Amplifier to kids on their class field trip to the La Brea Tar Pits. But he has a fan in grad student Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel) and she believes in his research and spurs him to finish the device. The two go to a source of “tachyon energy” which rests on the shittiest amusement park on the face of the planet. To test the Amplifier, Marshall and Holly go down a tunnel of horrors ride with their guide Will Stanton (Danny McBride) and when Marshall activates the Amplifier, a portal opens up, and they’re thrown into the Land of the Lost. Wacky adventures happen with grudging acknowledgments to the series, mainly in the form of the song, Cha-Ka, and the reptilian monsters known as “Sleestaks”.
“Land of the Lost” is mostly The Will Ferrell Show and it’s a repeat. It’s the same character we’ve seen from him before: arrogant dumb guy yells a lot and delivers odd observations. The question is whether or not that humor still works for you. Ferrell’s completely comfortable in this comedic persona and I wonder how much of a shelf-life it has when folks can just stay at home and see the same kind of performance if they pop in “Step Brothers” or “Talladega Nights” or “Semi-Pro”. And I don’t like harping on it because if I go back to my reviews of “Semi-Pro” or “Step Brothers”, I note the same criticism: Ferrell is funny but he’s not giving us anything we haven’t seen before.
This allows Danny McBride to step in and almost steal the show. Even though he’s also playing an arrogant moron, there’s that tinge of redneck pride to the performance and while it is also similar to his work in “Eastbound and Down” and “The Foot Fist Way”, McBride is enough of a fresh face that we don’t feel like we’ve seen it all before.
But despite the familiarity, I was laughing. I can’t remember at what, but I do remember laughing. Ferrell and McBride are good at what they do but Anna Friel is absolutely wasted in her role and it’s kind of fucked up that she’s the only woman in the movie and doesn’t get to deliver a single joke. Beyond the humor, the action is mostly forgettable and unimpressive. The film appears ambivalent about whether it wants to embrace to low-budget camp of the original or use that big budget and instead it just looks like an expensive-but-still-kind-of-crappy version of the original. I would have been more amused if they had really kept it all crappy looking and lo-rent.
Ferrell has stuck to what he knows best and what he knows best isn’t family comedy. He knows swearing, yelling, and jokes that make people uncomfortable and if parents take their kids to this film, those kids aren’t going to get a lot of the jokes and those parents are going to hope that their kids don’t get a lot of the jokes (although there’s nothing in this movie that’s going to scar your child for life). For those that don’t have to worry about the little ones, it’s an amusing movie and gives you exactly what you expect from Will Ferrell. I would just prefer the unexpected from him.
Rating —– B minus