Land of the Lost
Chased by dinosaurs, aliens, and '70s schlock
About halfway into "Land of the Lost," our intrepid time-space travelers stumble into a desert wasteland filled with the half-buried bric-a-brac of human civilization: Ferris wheels and catapults, convertibles and fast food signs, swimming pools and phone booths and ice cream trucks. It's a cultural boneyard. Not at all coincidentally, so's the movie. Genially terrible, "Lost" is lazy, sloppy multiplex filler, good for a few solid giggles and not much more.
Well, it's summer and Will Ferrell is once more upon us, braying the laugh of the wealthy entertainer who plays idiots for a living. "Land of the Lost" is something of an archeological dig itself, repurposed as it is from the much-loved mid-'70s TV show about a family marooned in an alternate universe of dinosaurs and aliens. The series - you can play catch-up on Hulu.com - was the broadcast equivalent of an orange shag rug. The movie picks that rug to shreds and laughs at the pieces.
We're not exactly talking "The Iliad" here, even if the original show's producers, Sid and Marty Krofft, did draft well-regarded sci-fi writers to work on the scripts. (Schlocky as it was, "Lost" was a respectable step up from the Kroffts' earlier Saturday morning show "H.R. Pufnstuf," whose Barney-on-acid visions still haunt this writer's waking nightmares.) So Ferrell and his writers have a free hand to reinvent with affectionate mockery.
Fair enough. The star plays Rick Marshall, a pudgy blowhard - nothing new there - who has invented a "tachyon amplifier" with the power to open a gateway to other dimensions. Humiliated on TV by "Today" show host Matt Lauer, gamely playing himself, Marshall still plows ahead on a "routine expedition" to the land of three moons, accompanied by a comely British scientist (Anna Friel) and a belly-scratching cave guide - Danny McBride, lately an inspired supporting boor of guy-comedies like "Tropic Thunder" and "Pineapple Express."
Once there, the threesome encounters revved-up, jokey versions of the old show's characters: a helpful apeman named Cha-ka (Jorma Taccone), a rampaging T. Rex nicknamed "Grumpy," those slow-moving Creature From the Black Lagoon knockoffs known as Sleestaks. Because modern summer blockbusters call for modern measures, Cha-ka is now constantly horny, the Sleestaks have scary double rows of serrated teeth, and the T. Rex is no longer an adorable Claymation beastie but a screeching computer-generated behemoth. (Don't take the little ones, by the way, unless they can handle sub-"Jurassic Park" scares and a lot of masturbation gags.)
Writers Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas have backgrounds in TV sitcoms and sketch comedy, and Ferrell has been indulging in online comedy shorts. Accordingly, "Land of the Lost" has the attention span of a caffeinated squirrel, scampering from smutty jokes to ragged action sequences and back again. Visually, the film's a disgrace, with jumpy handheld camerawork that plays as if the producers left the tripod back in the party trailer. Your kids could shoot a better movie. Your kids have shot a better movie.
Where "Land of the Lost" gets its laughs is from stringing dopey/funny pop-culture references along the most tenuous of plotlines. The joke that the tachyon amplifier is built from a boombox that plays the original cast recording of "A Chorus Line" eventually gets old, but it leads to the movie's most goofily inspired bit, with Ferrell pirouetting through a lava field of pterodactyl eggs.
"Blades of Glory" got an entire movie out of that, though. "Lost" is merely built on riffage: a Santana vocorder imitation here, a nod to Snoopy's doghouse there. You could play at home and save on the popcorn. As a diehard fan of pop-cult arcana, I appreciated the shout-outs to the 1979 comedy "The In-Laws" (Ferrell running around yelling "Serpentine!") and 1961 shipwreck fantasy "Mysterious Island" (a Ray Harryhausen-inspired giant crab meets an appropriate end). But I would have preferred a movie that took the business of being funny a bit more seriously.
Still, that's what you get with megastar "SNL" comedy grads like Ferrell and Mike Myers and, at his weakest, Adam Sandler: the proudly smug assumption that boner jokes, bad '70s songs, and computer graphics are all you need to separate summer audiences from their money. That may be true, but Sid and Marty Krofft deserve better and so do you.