Land of the Lost

(2009) ** Pg-13
93 min. Universal. Director: Brad Silberling. Cast: Will Ferrell, Anna Friel, Jorma Taccone.

/content/films/3434/1.jpgDinos and primates and Sleestaks, oh my! Sid & Marty Krofft’s low-rent Saturday-morning-TV sci-fi adventure Land of the Lost has been found again, but this time on the big screen. In the new Land of the Lost, quantum paleontologist Dr. Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell) is considered a crackpot for his theories about using a “tachyon amplifier” to travel sideways in time. Marshall was the hero of the 1974-1976 series; then (as in the Marshall-less 1991 remake), the story followed a family united in peril. This Hollywood-friendly formula would seem to promise an earnest, wholesome “PG”-rated tale in the mold of last year’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Refreshingly, Ferrell, director Brad Silberling (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) and writers Chris Henchy & Dennis McNicholas embrace the cheese and erase the children from existence. But in banishing formula, the film winds up, well, lost. After thoroughly embarrassing himself on the Today show, Marshall is prone to the scientific overtures of enthusiastic Cambridge-educated researcher Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel of Pushing Daisies), who believes in his theories. Encouraged to complete the “tachyon amplifier” invention, Marshall takes it and Holly to a space-time hotspot: the Devil’s Canyon Mystery Cave.

There, Rick, Holly and ugly-American tour guide Will Stanton (Danny McBride of Pineapple Express) get sucked through “some kind of tear in time and outer space” to a prehistoric parallel universe. Rick immediately antagonizes a T. rex that’s smarter than he looks, sending the threesome and a local primate named Chaka (Jorma Taccone of SNL) into the relative refuge of a cave. Soon, the four become entangled in the local politics of the Sleestaks, a race of upright-walking lizards with multiple mouths.

It’s all mildly entertaining in an incredibly stupid, borderline coherent way, but character development is an afterthought at best as the movie hurtles from one senseless sensation to the next. The thorough irreverence about (some might say contempt toward) conventional plotting and trippy visuals may appeal more to stoners than kids, and parents should be aware of the bawdy sex and drug humor. The sizeable budget allows for elaborate production design by Bo Welch (Men in Black) in desert and jungle settings (the former inspired more by Planet of the Apes than Saturday-morning TV) and a playful score by Michael Giacchino (Star Trek).

Ferrell and McBride bring their brands of funny in the doses the script allows, Taccone is amusing as the wide-eyed, boob-grabbing monkey prince, and man-of-the-hour Leonard Nimoy supplies a vocal cameo as “the Zarn.” Only there’s an increasing odor of flop-sweat desperation as the film “progresses” from set piece to set piece. By the late moment when Silberling builds a whole scene around a show-tune joke that was already tired in the first act, audiences may start to wonder, “Is this all there is?”

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]

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