Approximately two thirds of the way through this big-screen, big-budget overhaul of the campy '70’s television series comes a sequence in which, after being sucked into an alternate dimension, our heroes – joke of the scientific community Dr. Rick Marshall (Ferrell), his research assistant Holly (Friel), and a trailer-park survivalist Will (McBride) – frolic around a motel swimming pool, one of the many odd-looking landmarks transported there in similar fashion. Having frantically dodged the rampaging T-Rex, narrowly escaped a malevolent tribe of lizard people, and finally retrieved a vital piece of equipment from the volcanic nest of a giant Pterodactyl, the group enjoy a refreshing drink from the fruit of a local tree and unexpectedly wind up tripping their balls off.

Why is this happening? Seemingly because in a realm that literally has no rules, where at any given moment you can expect to see a pack of Velociraptors tear limb-from-limb a terrified ice cream vendor, this spectacularly humdrum drug humor is apparently what passes for imaginative comedy. For sure, from start to finish Land of the Lost is a film so guilty of squandering its comic potential that you don’t so much want to tell people not to see it as drag it in front of an International Justice Tribunal at The Hague. It’s a film that has precisely one good joke that is set up in the first scene and paid off in the last. Between those two points is a tired rehash of Ferrell’s inept egotist routine marbled around a story so unregulated in terms of its own boundaries that it crosses dimensions in its own right.

One of the most basic principles of screenwriting is that the more outlandish your premise, the tighter the writing and the focus has to be to make it fly. And this is simply just a runaway train of poorly thought out ideas. We’ve seen Ferrell tweak this persona over and over and none are more aware of this that director Brad Silberling, who is reluctant to let Ferrell commit to his buffoonery full force and instead hamstrings his character with a misplaced sense of nobility. In a trait that lingers from the TV show (where the trio were a family), Marshall seems caught between protective fatherly duties and simple idiocy that drag his antics back and forth from sensible to stupid when it would surely be far more fun to simply have him be an unapologetic cretin.

As Will, the redneck park ride operator with dreams of a lavish casino hotel complete with slave towers to which mates who piss him off shall be banished, McBride fairs no better. Far more average Joe most of the time than the pure trailer trash he’s intended to be, his random sexist jibes just come over as oddly out of place rather than rooted in personality. Anna Friel’s Holly is the designated normal character, but that is all she is. Not even comically stuffy, anal, or straight-laced, she’s just so ordinary that it’s next to impossible to buy that she ever became a disciple of this crackpot and his harebrained theories. Also along for the ride is Cha-Ka, a rescued primate (played by SNL writer Jorma Taccone) who seems to exist solely to facilitate jokes about inappropriate touching.

As far as the plot is concerned the very nature of the movie means we’re primed for something suitably out there. But what we get is an odd marriage of bad Twilight Zone darkness and sub-Star Trek moralizing (Leonard Nimoy even pops up to voice a benevolent alien) centered on an exiled galactic warlord and his plot to enslave the Sleestacks (lizard people from the TV show) into an inter-dimensional army. It’s an idea that cobbles together so many random elements it seems to forget to be in any way funny, which is kind of fatal for a comedy.

Really though this movie lives or dies by the Ferrell factor and, while the aforementioned script problems don’t help, he should be more than capable of doing some of the legwork himself. One of the most common complaints people have with Ferrell is his apparent inability to just tell a joke and move on, seemingly compelled to embellish every gag with unnecessary improv that drags it past funny into pure self-indulgence. Here tasked with the simple act of pouring dinosaur urine over himself, you could honestly be forgiven for thinking he was about to deliver the “To be or not to be…” speech from Hamlet. When he isn’t doing that, he is essentially running away from one thing or another, screaming very loudly.

It’s for these reasons, along with any one of a dozen others we could mention, that despite an intriguing set up ripe for parody, the movie misfires on almost every level. Such simple banality masquerading as plot device as the pool sequence and Ferrell’s painfully unfunny ad-libbing are every bit as glaringly out of place as the motel and the ice cream truck.

2009

Starring: Will Ferrell, Anna Friel, Danny McBride, Jorma Taccone, Matt Lauer

Director: Brad Silberling

Runtime: 93 Minutes

Distributor: Universal

Rating: PG-13

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