Some movies are in-your-face bad. Others are bad in such a clueless, woolly way that by the end of 110 minutes you may feel like hugging all the actors and craftspeople involved, as if they were grade-schoolers who just gave their all to an endearingly terrible class play. Then you remember their “play” cost $100 million.
Like last year’s Speed Racer, Land of the Lost is an epic test-marketing misfire, a film that targets so many demographics it ends up hitting none. Parents who bring kids will bristle at the raunchy humor. Kids will roll their eyes at special effects designed to capture the bargain-basement look of the original 1974-76 live-action Saturday-morning TV series. Generation X’ers who fondly remember that Sid and Marty Krofft effort will wonder what happened to the original premise. And Will Ferrell fans probably know enough to stay away.
The original “Land of the Lost” combined very bad effects and acting with some trippy concepts and characters courtesy of reputable science-fiction authors such as David Gerrold. It took place in an interdimensional landfill of sorts where anything might show up, from dinosaurs to historical artifacts to aliens. Into this rift tumbled park ranger Rick Marshall and his two kids, teen heartthrob Will and flaxen-haired Holly.
Retooling the show for an older version of its original audience, scriptwriters Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas turned the dad character into your basic Will Ferrell demented manchild: a pompous “quantum paleontologist” who insists that manufactured time warps are the answer to the energy crisis. (Whether he’s a fool or just a tool is never fully explained.) They gave Holly (Anna Friel) a set of breasts and a Cambridge degree and transformed her into Marshall’s love interest. (No, they’re no longer related.) Will is now a comic slacker (Danny McBride) who accidentally ends up accompanying Rick and Holly through a crack in the space-time continuum when they test their scientific gizmo at his desert roadside attraction.
Once they’ve done the time warp, our three protagonists encounter a raging T. Rex, a plaintive little hairy humanoid (Jorma Taccone), and a tribe of toothy reptilians called Sleestaks with a New Age crystal obsession. They wander through a surreal desert strewn with the detritus of human history; they escape perils and learn lessons. Enough rambling, F/X-laden stuff happens that it may take viewers a while to realize the film is simply one hyperextended stoner joke. By the time the male characters are getting high on berries and daring each other to French kiss, it’s stopped even pretending to be a fantastical adventure. (The Krofft shows are notorious for their jokey drug-culture subtext, but nothing’s “sub-“ here.)
As an exercise in pure loopiness, Land of the Lost is about as entertaining as your second or third viewing of the trailer for the upcoming time-hopping stoner comedy Year One. (Just think of McBride as Jack Black and Taccone as a simian Michael Cera.) But, despite a few lightheaded moments, the film keeps bringing itself down to earth with ham-handed running jokes and pop-culture references. To call Ferrell’s character poorly drawn is kind: He’s characterized with product placement. When Holly discovers Marshall distraught over the failure of his time-travel device, he’s just coming off a fast-food binge that he rehashes in detail, dutifully name-checking Arby’s and Subway. (Later, McBride’s character joins the shilling, noting that he once moved to live closer to a Ruby Tuesday.) If a film ever needed to turn its sponsorships into a self-conscious joke à la “30 Rock,” this is it.
So why is it hard to hate Land of the Lost? The movie feels underpopulated, with more CGI creatures than human beings, but at least the actors on screen appear to be having fun. Ferrell does his usual comically self-important schtick, McBride gets the most out of his deadpan, eye-rolling delivery, and even Friel seems to be trying to apply some moxie to her thankless role as eye candy.
If you saw pieces of Land of the Lost while flipping around on Friday-night basic cable, you might find it a passable, silly diversion. And, if box office figures are any indication, you’ll soon have the opportunity to do just that.