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Gulliver’s Travels 3D (2010) zero stars

December 25, 2010

  

written by: Joe Stillman, Nicholas Stoller & Jonathan Swift (novel)

produced by: John Davis, Gregory Goodman, Ben Cooley & Jack Black

directed by: Rob Letterman

rated PG for brief rude humor, mild language and action.

93 min.

U.S. release date: December 25, 2010 

I feel sorry for Joe Lo Truglio, a funny character actor who’s popped up in films like “I Love You, Man” and “Superbad”, and now in this film, is listed during the end credits as “Butt Crack Man”. You read that right. Maybe Mr. Truglio didn’t mind being the butt of the joke, when a giant Jack Black loses his balance and falls backward, inevitably taking the actor out of the picture with his gigantic white rear-end. No character development for Mr. Butt Crack Man. Just fatal hindsight.

Why is Jack Black’s crack on display anyway? It’s not because his shorts and skivvies inadvertently collapse to the beach as the tiny people below try to contain him or because that’s just how he rolls (even though it is). It’s simply because this is what happens when 20th Century Fox updates, modernizes and flushes classic literature down the toilet.    

No one should be surprised that the latest adaptation of Jonathan Swift’s 1726 novel Gulliver’s Travels replaces any relevant satire and parody with juvenile hilarity and dumbed-down potty humor. But just because you’re expecting mindless drivel with a barely noticeable 3D conversion doesn’t mean you should like it. Of course, I knew all that going in and, sadly, for the first time this year, my expectations were met.

  

GULLIVER'S TRAVELS Still 1

 

Single slacker, Lemuel Gulliver (Jack Black), has worked in the same mailroom of a Manhattan newspaper for the past 10 years. He’s got his routine down, playing RockBand at work, and spewing pop culture references that few co-worker’s catch on to.  Gulliver considering himself the little guy in a big corporate environment, someone who doesn’t mind not being seen or heard. If only he could summon the courage to ask out Darcy (Amanda Peet), the paper’s travel editor, out on a date. It might work too, seeing as how she seems to be the only one who notices the guy. Too bad he doesn’t see it.

Then a managerial shift finds Gulliver facing some harsh reality. His new assistant winds up being his boss by the end of his first day. Ouch! Desperate to hold on to his normal grind, he unintentionally exerts himself and lands a writing assignment for the travel section. Darcy is surprised at how professionally Gulliver’s submission reads (the “copy and paste” approach will do that) and immediately sends him off to the Bermuda Triangle to investigate mysterious reports.

Hold on, let’s just stop right there for a moment. Right from the start, it’s clear this is another vehicle for Black to work his one eyebrow craziness and air guitar his dee-da-lee-do, but that doesn’t mean that all the other characters have to be working on the same wavelength. How can an editor send a mailroom guy on a solo journey to the Caribbean after just one writing example? And how in the world are we supposed to believe this doofus knows how to man a fishing boat all by himself? The movie may have met my expectations, but that’s not to say it doesn’t leave me with questions.  

As you can imagine, Gulliver encounters a storm which sucks him up into a vortex and spits him onto the land of Lilliput. A proud and royal land of diminutive kings, queens, princesses, and one arrogant (and annoying) Security Chief named Edward (Chris O’Dowd who last appeared in “Dinner for Schmucks” where I mistook him for Jason Segel), who thinks he’s all that until he sizes up Gulliver. Immediately deemed a beast, Gulliver is tied up and tossed into a prison cave. It’s a testament to the size of Gulliver’s brain that he never just breaks free and takes off, when his captors are the size of his hand.

GULLIVER'S TRAVELS Still 3

 

But then he wouldn’t meet his one little friend, Horatio (a lifeless Jason Segel), the local peasant who’s been locked away for making advances toward Princess Mary (Emily Blunt, stereotypically slumming it), whom Edward courts. Much to Edward’s dismay, it doesn’t take the Lilliputians long to warm-up to Gulliver. Maybe that happened after he urinated on them, including King Theodore (a bland Billy Connolly), while he was trapped in a royal palace fire. It’s easy to see past being doused in stinky urine, when your life has just been saved. Right?

In no time, Gulliver is helping out his new little friends with his sheer girth, as they trust him to help defend their land from any invading armies. He coaches timid Horatio in the art of wooing women (yes, we get it….as if he’d know) while teaching him needless and irrelevant pop culture savvy lingo. In one bizarre and unfunny scene, Black coaches Segel to sing and dance to Prince’s “Kiss” in an effort to win the Princess over, as Blunt looks from her balcony above. Painful.

All this also gives Gulliver a chance to be someone he’s not. He cleverly has the Lilliputians portray his adventurous exploits, such as his battle with Darth Vader in Cloud City and his sacrificial death at sea before his true love Rose, in the form of live theatre. He tells them he comes from the island of Manhattan, “in between the island of Long and Staten”, informs them he is King of said island, and that he has a girlfriend named Darcy. He has no idea that his lie will wash ashore when a furious Darcy is marooned, in her effort to track down Gulliver and his lies. I guess she knows how to man a boat all by herself as well. She must have googled some instructions. 

GULLIVER'S TRAVELS Still 2

 

This madness has to end somehow and thankfully it comes fast since there is little character development in this paper-thin script that produces more groans than it does laughs. I actually feel for the trees this script was printed on. The conclusion is a ridiculous and inevitable showdown between Gulliver and Edward, who has built a giant robot from a gamer magazine found among Gulliver’s wreckage. Ugh. The battle concludes with Gulliver teaching two battling mini-kingdoms a thing or two about war by breaking out into a loosey-goosey song and dance to Edwin Starr’s “War”, complete with tiny back-up singers (because, after all, not knowing anything of Gulliver’s culture, they know that song well).   

The sad thing is, I generally like Jack Black as well as most of his costars here. But, this is a paycheck movie. It has to be, as we see him forcing overly familiar Blackisms, as he gives in to the school of man-child acting that has made him (and Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell) a load of cash in the past. The script provided by Joe Stillman (“Shrek the Third” and “Planet 51”) and frequent Segel collaborator, Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Yes Man”) is a trite example of cruise-control nonsense. There is nothing remotely unique or original for Peet and Blunt (it’s sad to see this is what Blunt passed up “Iron Man 2” for. She would’ve made a great Black Widow), while Segel just coasts on the same put-upon schtick we’ve seen before. As the antagonist, O’ Dowd is appropriately stupid and annoying, but that doesn’t help the film whatsoever. It just cements what a depressing waste of time this is. 

Director Rob Letterman (“Monsters vs. Aliens” and “Shark’s Tale”)  is expecting this to be funny. As you can see, he’s wrong. Instead, it is a sad testament to what talented actors will commit to and what passes as family entertainment. I get it. This is rated PG and what studio heads consider to be appropriate for all ages and worthy of your time. Maybe they all had a gut-bustin’ time on the set and forgot that some viewers actually have a mind of their own. Sure enough, families will fall for it too as they take a break from holiday cheer to expect some mindless fun. Instead, they will just find a mindless waste of time. It’s more painful to sit through this than deal with the uncomfortable results of festive overeating.

On the way to the theater to see this, I had the foreboding feeling that I would experience exactly what I was expecting. I then found myself imagining where the movie could’ve gone if Charlie Kaufman wrote it, Todd Haynes directed, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman starred in it instead of what we have here. Now that would have been a trip worth traveling.

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