Is "Land of the Lost" a loose remake of Sid and Marty Krofft's cult 1974-77 television series, or is the film a spoof of it, replacing awful model effects with CGI, but otherwise retaining that show's chintziness for sets and opticals? And who is the proposed audience? Too childish for adults and too raunchy for the young set, the PG-13 picture (flirting at times with an R) plays like an older-skewing version of 2008's "Journey to the Center of the Earth
" with only a portion of the excitement. As directed by Brad Silberling (2004's "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
") and written by "Entourage" alum Chris Henchy and longtime "Saturday Night Live" contributor Dennis McNicholas, "Land of the Lost" is a strange amalgamation of all of the above. Ultimately, it feels more like an excuse for 106 minutes of Will Ferrell's antics than a particularly entertaining or cohesively thought-out narrative.
Three years after being shamed by Matt Lauer on the "Today" show, self-described quantum paleontologist Dr. Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell) now teaches obnoxious youngsters just a stone's throw away from the La Brea Tar Pits. When novice scientist Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel) comes knocking, adamant in her belief in Marshall's studies about alternate universes existing sideways in time, the two of them set out to prove themselves right. Sure enough, they and redneck guide Will Stanton (Danny McBride) enter a vortex via the Devil's Canyon Mystery Cave tourist trap and end up in a land populated by live dinosaurs, otherworldly creatures, and recognizable artifacts from the past, present and future. Now that Marshall knows for a fact that his theories have been true, all he has to do is defeat the reptilian Sleestak race and stay alive long enough to find a way back home.
There is a jokey, acerbic quality to the big-screen "Land of the Lost" that sometimes amusesif not enough to make the bland rest of it worth wading through. It is cute, for example, when Rick Marshall and Will Stanton come upon a vibrating crystal monolith and, their hands pressed up against it, start mimicking the song "Believe" by Cher. Marshall's fondness for show tunes, specifically "I Hope I Get It" from "A Chorus Line," is an increasingly funny recurring gag. To humorous effect, half-man/half-primate sidekick Chaka (Jorma Taccone) has been transformed into something of a squirrely horndog, stealing every chance he gets to feel up Holly's breasts. And a set-piece where Stanton dares Marshall to french-kiss Chaka during a druggy haze that culminates in the sounds of Seals & Croft's "Summer Breeze" has a certain loose, easy charm to it. Other aims for laughter are more predictable, with urine, blood splatter, and a prehistoric animal's defecation of a human decidedly icky.
The special effects run the gamut from uninspired CGIthe dinosaurs don't look half as seamless as the ones in 1993's "Jurassic Park"to matte paintings that might just be bad green screen work, to literally people in Halloween costumes (the villainous Sleestaks). Meanwhile, most of the exterior sets plainly appear to have been filmed in a studio, though individual art direction, such as a motel roof and swimming pool sticking out of the desert ground or the Golden Gate Bridge and Hollywood sign half-buried under sand, boast some much-needed visual pizzazz. Since the old television series wasn't exactly a beacon of technological advancements, the film's cartoonish side is easy enough to swallow. What is detrimental to the film as a whole, though, is its overwhelming lack of a story and central conflict, and its preference for strung-together comic episodes over character development and true emotion. Director Brad Silberling never slows the action down enough to truly get to know or care about the people onscreen, and he also has completely forgotten to inject some wonder and magic into the proceedings. There desperately needed to be a moment where Rick, Holly and Will gazed awe-inspiringly at the world around them, but it does not come.
Will Ferrell (2008's "Step Brothers
") is basically playing the typical Ferrell persona as Dr. Rick Marshall, but he does it well so there isn't much use in complaining. As Holly Cantrell, who hides a deep, nearly unquenchable attraction for Rick, Anna Friel (2003's "Timeline
") is as adorable as she is on TV's "Pushing Daisies." As Will Stanton, Danny McBride (2008's "Pineapple Express
") is typecast as the white-trash doofus of the group; he is in virtually every scene, but doesn't have as much to do as his two main co-stars. The three of them together prove to be a game ensemble, but "Land of the Lost" is finally done in by its own perfunctory machinations, heavy on freneticism but short on urgency and intrigue. The movie races around to nowhere in particular, more concerned with rarely spectacular spectacle than a beating heart. With the ending, all that is elicited is a shrug of indifference.