So as not to buck any trends, Hollywood uncorks yet another mediocre, big money 3-D extravaganza, this time with Jack Black pissing all over the legacy of Jonathan Swift’s classic Gulliver’s Travels.
And I don’t mean that metaphorically. After Black’s Gulliver winds up in the land of Lilliput, where he’s a giant, and everybody else is the size of his thumb, he becomes a hero by putting out a fire with his own, bountifully giant urine stream. That gives you an idea on where this modern take is going.
Black’s Gulliver starts off in a Manhattan newspaper mailroom, where he plays Guitar Hero during work hours and has a not-so-secret crush on Darcy (Amanda Peet), the editor of the travel section. After a failed attempt to ask her out, he unwittingly finds himself with a writing assignment to examine the Bermuda Triangle. After his boat goes into a big waterspout, he wakes up in that familiar “giant strapped down by little guys on a beach” pose.
The film then plays upon the notion of a modern man getting stuck in the classic world of Gulliver’s Travels, where the land he is visiting has a mostly colonial feel. After Gulliver’s status rises amongst the Lilliputians, they build him a luxurious home with many modern amenities.
While they can fashion a large coffeemaker, they haven’t figured out flat screen television technology yet, so they make a giant theater room with a stage that has the appearance of a flat screen. The Lilliputians act out scenes from Gulliver’s alleged life story, which includes some fateful moments from Titanic and The Empire Strikes Back. They also act out video games, like Kiss Guitar Hero. These moments are funny but not enough to save the movie.
For such a giant, expensive 3-D world, the movie’s look is rather flat and unimaginative. Jason Segel and Emily Blunt are woefully underused as Horatio and Princess Mary. Both are decent comic performers given next to nothing to do in the proceedings. This is the Jack Black Comedy Show, a show that started getting a little tedious after his big moment in School of Rock eight years ago (with the notable exception of his hilarious work in Tropic Thunder).
While I’m a big Tenacious D fan, Black breaking into a fully orchestrated rendition of “War” near the film’s end seems as desperate as an obese 54 year-old stockbroker in the midst of a major sexual dry spell waving 20s in an all-nude strip joint. The film isn’t a musical, so it’s a little odd when the lead busts out in song, accompanied by a full band soundtrack and all the mini-people singing along. I was uncomfortable watching it, and it’s a scene clearly indicating the moviemakers had run out of ideas.
“Hey, we don’t have a real ending, so let’s have Jack Black singing and doing his Tenacious D shtick! It’ll knock ’em dead!” Actually, it might’ve been cool had a giant Kyle Gass (Black’s Tenacious D partner) shown up out of nowhere with his acoustic guitar to accompany him. That actually would’ve given Gulliver’s Travels the year’s best, most surreal movie ending instead of its lamest.
I still think Black has some potent comic fuel left in his tank, but he needs more adult roles and less of the arrested adolescent stuff. That was funny when he was in his 30s, but he’s in his 40s now, so perhaps it’s time to move on. He’s slated to be in a comedy about birdwatchers alongside Steve Martin and Owen Wilson in one of his next movies. When compared to the overblown Gulliver’s Travels, that actually sounds quite promising.