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Land of the Lost Review – An Off-Kilter Take on Classic Kitsch That’s Also Ferrell’s Best in Years

Land of the Lost Review – An Off-Kilter Take on Classic Kitsch That’s Also Ferrell’s Best in Years” width=”560″/>

In a season that’s been big and loud even by summer standards, this strange little movie has snuck in under the radar. Land of the Lost repurposes Will Ferrell‘s trademark, now more-or-less immortal shtick for an offbeat amalgam of goofball comedy, colorful throwback, and sincere fantasy adventure. As with any movie that puts Ferrell front and center, it’s uneven and trends toward the juvenile, but it’s also the best vehicle for the comedian in years — maybe ever. That it manages to integrate his stock character into the movie, rather than attempting to make it the movie, is a major part of the reason why.

Land of the Lost spends much of its time in an alternate dimension filled with roaming dinosaurs and strange alien creatures. But in the hands of director Brad Silberling (Lemony Snicket), this new world doesn’t look like the gleaming, photorealistic expanse you would expect to see in an expensive modern summer blockbuster. While the filmmakers undoubtedly upgraded from the ’70s TV show on which it’s based, they’ve retained a sort of charming chintziness — the sets look like sets, and some of the bug-eyed monsters that eventually appear seem like they could be (and indeed probably are) dudes in bright rubber costumes. Even the CGI dinosaurs have a distinctive unreality about them. The movie has a nice storybook feel: Sometimes a bit garish, but sometimes strikingly pretty.

And it’s funny. I was a bit skeptical when, after a brief cold open, the movie plunged right into a buffoonish Today Show interview with Ferrell’s besotted “quantum paleontologist” going postal on the real-life Matt Lauer. But Land of the Lost won me over with sheer commitment. I expected the movie to surrender its comic sensibility to elaborate, anonymous action set pieces. I was surprised to find it doggedly sticking to its irreverent mindset — to the point where I couldn’t find a single action scene without a comic hook.

I hasten to add that not every joke works, and in fact Land of the Lost‘s hit rate is not even that impressive (though for a Ferrell flick, it’s not bad). But the writers — or perhaps the actors ad libbing on set — occasionally go in such odd directions that it became easier to forgive, say, the three-minute monologue in which Ferrell repeatedly pours dinosaur urine on himself, and then takes a drink. Listen for a wonderfully inexplicable line about M&M’s and donuts. And it’s hard to dislike a movie that ends an action scene with a time machine loudly belting out “I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line while being carried off by a pterodactyl.

It’s interesting that Ferrell’s Dr. Rick Marshall, while still outrageously arrogant and blithely self-absorbed, isn’t completely ineffectual: Unlike other Ferrell characters, Marshall occasionally knows something about something, and even has a bright idea every now and then. I also liked that Danny McBride, who has made a career out of playing surreally unpleasant and clueless jackasses, actually plays a kind of nice guy here. You probably still wouldn’t want him over for dinner, but the baby steps are encouraging. And I’d be remiss not to mention Jorma Taccone, a veteran Saturday Night Live writer and Andy Samberg collaborator, who gives a singularly bizarre performance as a furry pre-human primate with a tendency to break into dance at inappropriate moments.

Look, I don’t want to oversell Land of the Lost. It’s not for all tastes, and it’s certainly not the family-friendly adventure flick it’s advertised to be. (The PG-13 rating is merited, and then some.) It attempts to be relatively earnest about its fantasy elements, but the story is sheer, unadulterated kitsch — it doesn’t even really have a lucid high concept. (It’s, uh, a parallel dimension. Where time collides. With tachyon waves. Or something.) Still, I recommend it. Land of the Lost is minor, funny and strange — and probably nothing like you would expect.

To get an alternate movie review of Land of the Lost, go to AMC Filmcritic.com

Fan of the Sid & Marty Krofft television series? Check out AMCtv.com’s interview with screenwriter Larry Niven.

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