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Movie Review

Bigger is not always better

Jack Black can’t lift the level of humor in disappointing ‘Gulliver’s Travels’

Jack Black, playing the title role, is tied up by the Lilliputians in a scene from “Gulliver’s Travels.’’ Jack Black, playing the title role, is tied up by the Lilliputians in a scene from “Gulliver’s Travels.’’ (20th Century Fox)
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / December 24, 2010

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‘Gulliver’s Travels,’’ which opens tomorrow, is a migraine inducement that you’d think Jack Black had gotten out of his system years ago. Yet he still finds an excuse to wear a blazer and shorts and fling his bodily orb like Angus Young on Guitar Hero night at the neighborhood bar. When he starts with his “School of Rock’’ performance, we know he’s on autopilot. The movie, directed by Rob Letterman and credited to two screenwriters, is much worse off: There’s no one in the cockpit at all.

Poor Jonathan Swift provides the nominal source material. Giant man lands on an island kingdom dotted with hors d’oeuvres-size people. Black becomes the local hero. The Lilliputians build him a glass-and-steel manse that anywhere else would sit above Los Angeles. He hooks the princess (Emily Blunt) up with a strapping peasant (Jason Segel), extinguishes a fire by urinating on it (and King Billy Connolly — and us), protects the island from its dapper enemies, and stages live miniature performances of “Titanic’’ and “Star Wars’’ under the fib that the movies are the story of his life.

Bits of this, like the stage shows, are clever, but a presiding wit is scarce. There’s simply a halfhearted maturity moral, but hasn’t Jack Black the stoned slacker already matured into Jack Black the adult? Not satisfactorily enough, it seems. In this case, before landing in Lilliput, he’s a mailroom derelict who, upon returning, winds up a travel writer for a New York newspaper with a fantastically enormous budget and Amanda Peet as the moony section editor.

Black is an obvious hit with kids. He makes a lot of funny faces, drops his pants, once by force, gets a wedgie from a giant robot, dresses up like a baby, and exuberantly plays a lot of Guitar Hero. (The hookah that appears in the frame of the final shot might be lost on the small.) There’s even an embarrassingly energetic musical number in which the cast dances badly and the camera points up into the star’s crotch. Did I mention that we’re required to gaze at all this through 3-D glasses? The difference between the foulness here and that of, say, “Jackass 3D’’ is a matter of competence. Even if the makers of “Gulliver’s Travels’’ know what they’re doing, they don’t seem to care.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/wesley_morris.

GULLIVER’S TRAVEL’S Directed by: Rob Letterman

Written by: Nicholas Stoller and Joe Stillman, adapted from Jonathan Swift

Starring: Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, Amanda Peet, and Billy ConnollyAt: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 83 minutes

Rated: PG (mild language, action, brief rude humor, including a urine shower; bring an umbrella)

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