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Land of the Lost

Director: Brad Silberling
Cast: Will Ferrell, Anna Friel, Danny McBride, Jorma Taccone, John Boylan, Matt Lauer

(Universal Pictures; US theatrical: 5 Jun 2009 (General release); UK theatrical: 31 Jul 2009 (General release); 2009.)

Human Conditions

I love show tunes. They really tell the story of the human condition.
—Dr. Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell)


Watching two cavemen begin to murder a third, Dr. Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell) is beside himself. “Tool construction!” he gasps, happy to see the killers following the steps of evolution. His time-traveling companions, Holly (Anna Friel) and Will (Danny McBride) are less impressed. She’s worried for the victim. He worries when she tries to intervene. Apparently none of them anticipates the onslaught of sex-and-race jokes the furry “little manly bastard” will afford. For the rest of us, however, the road ahead is all too plain.


Rick, Will, and Holly’s utter lack of understanding and planning is the premise of Land of the Lost, Brad Silberling’s reconfiguration of Sid and Marty Krofft’s TV series. On one level, this lack is antic and even, for a minute, intriguing. They’re transported to the titular land via Rick’s “tachyon amplifier,” a device that lets them travel sideways in time. On crash-landing in a desert, the travelers find themselves surrounded by a chaotic collection of icons and junk, from a Viking ship to a London phone booth, the Statue of Liberty to a Buddha, a Kodak booth to an ice cream truck. Tilted and broken, the objects sprout from the sand as if in a Dali painting, or, as Rick determines, more practically, “like a cosmic lost and found.” They provide our heroes with an assortment of supplies and tools they won’t need to construct, making their castaway lives oddly easy and disconcertingly random.


The promise of this randomness, its set-up for whacko plot turns and upsets, is squandered. Instead, the film delivers a series of banalities, jokes you see coming a mile away and more jokes that are desperately unfunny. Just so: the T. rex spews goo on the humans’ faces. Rick pours a jug of dinosaur urine on his head, not once, but twice. Rick throws down with Matt Lauer on the Today show, where he hawks his time-traveling theories. He and his buddies consume a narcotic plant and get the munchies. Incoherence seems pretty much par for the course (and might have been motivated by the assembly of props), but it is achieved at such agonizing cost, meaning, there’s not a moment when you care what’s going to happen next.


The randomness extends to the creatures populating the Land of the Lost, including a giant crab and the Sleestaks, those big-eyed lizard-like bipeds for which the TV show was mildly famous, as well as their adopted guide/caveman Chaka’s (Jorma Taccone) communications, which Holly identifies as “a very primitive language” that she, in her grad-studenty wisdom, can conveniently speak. Her periodic translations of Chaka’s story help the men to appreciate his difficult background (as a prince among his people who was turned out and abused by villains) and especially, his exceedingly familiar male-juvenile desires.


This business begins when Chaka puts his hand on Holly’s breast. It’s a predictable gag, and while she does her best to ignore it in the interest of whatever science the crew is pursuing in their interactions with Chaka, she’s soon beset by Will’s copycat efforts to grab and cup. And yes, the gag is repeated and even amplified, when Chaka is convinced that Rick is something like a god, and so initiates his submission by placing his hand on the taller man’s penis. Ha ha. Just imagine how much funnier the bit becomes when Rick rejects the handling but accepts the worship, explaining to Chaka the proper behavior of a slave before his master.


Of course the film gets much mileage out of self-professed genius Rick’s idiocy, which is only a continuation of Ferrell’s usual man-boy idness. Though Will offers a brief moment of rednecky resistance (voicing a vague class-based rage at the academic’s arrogance), they’re soon gallivanting through the landscape with shared intentions—sometimes seeking escape, more often juvenile acting out, as when they screech Cher’s “Believe,” observe Sleestak sex (“He’s about to tap that ass!”), and, inevitably, pronounce their mutual affection (“How much would I have to pay you all,” high-as-a-kite Will asks equally buzzed Rick and Chaka, “To French kiss?”).  It’s true that amid all the flying bodily fluids, adolescent cravings, and faux fearsome encounters, they keep focused on… pretty much nothing. It is, in its way, survival.

Rating:

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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