Gulliver's Travels

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 12/25/10 12:00:00

"Jack Black is back and no, we didn't miss him."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Words to make (some) moviegoers and (some) critics cringe: Jack Black is back and he’s bigger than ever (literally, as you’ll soon see). Black plays the lead character in "Gulliver's Travels," a loose (operative word here being “loose”) adaptation of Jonathan Swift's 18th-century satire of English society (the public domain exists solely to be exploited by Hollywood), reinvented as a CG-heavy, humor-free fantasy post-converted into 3D to wring maximum box-office dollars from unsuspecting audiences. Don't say you haven't been warned (because you have), so if you do see "Gulliver's Travels," you’ll have no one to blame except yourself (or your significant other) for refusing to heed the copious warnings sure to follow early screenings and movie reviews.

Black plays Lemuel Gulliver, a sad-sack slacker in his mid-thirties. Gulliver's spent a decade toiling away in the (yet-to-be-outsourced) mailroom for the (fictional) New York Tribune. A new mailroom employee, Dan (J.T. Miller), becomes Gulliver’s boss in just 24 hours, dragging Gulliver further down. Gulliver dreams...well, he doesn't actually have any dreams with the exception of scoring a date with the travel editor, Darcy Silverstein (Amanda Peet, wasted as usual). To get her attention and, Gulliver convinces Darcy to give him a shot as a travel writer. He returns the next day with a folder filled with articles, all of them plagiarized from travel sites. Darcy notices the resemblance, but never takes the obvious step of Googling the articles to find out if Gulliver has plagiarized the articles, out of intentional ignorance, willful blindness, naiveté, and/or laziness.

First (and last) stop: the Bermuda Triangle, the area, triangular by all descriptions, around Bermuda where ships, planes, and people have disappeared, never to be seen again, for several decades (possibly longer, but for that, we'll need Wikipedia to give us a helping appendage). In Bermuda, Black, or rather Gulliver, hops aboard a charter boat alone (yes, alone) with only a GPS device for help, and heads straight into the Bermuda Triangle. A massive storm sucks Gulliver up into a giant, Wizard of Oz-inspired, CG vortex, depositing him on the island of the diminutive Lilliputians where, after he’s mistaken for a monster, chained, and thrown into a human-sized dungeon, he saves the Lilliputian library and, more importantly, the Lilliputian monarch, King Theodore (Billy Connolly), from a fate worse than death (actually, he saves the king from death), by unleashing a prodigious amount of urine on the king’s head (yes, you read that correctly).

Rather than throw Gulliver back into the dungeon or exiling him, King Theodore elevates Gulliver undeservedly into a position of power and privilege. That’s all it takes (i.e., a steady stream of urine) to turn Gulliver from zero to hero, at least superficially. Gulliver lets all that power and privilege go this oversized head. The Lilliputians build a full-sized, ocean-side chateau and = turn their main thoroughfare into a replica of Times Square for Gulliver. Every billboard features his mug combined with an over-obvious ad for a well-known brand or entertainment product (including Star Wars, Titanic, Avatar, 20th Century Fox releases like Gulliver’s Travels).

When Gulliver’s not basking in the adoration of the easily impressed Lilliputians or directing theatrical performances based on his many exploits (they're not, of course), he’s crossing virtual swords with the anger-prone Lilliputian army commander, General Edward (Chris O'Dowd), with his self-aggrandizing behavior, Gulliver is giving wrong-headed romantic advice to a commoner, Horatio (a slightly bloated, bored Jason Segel, in a painfully unfunny faux-British accent) with a mad crush on a princess, Princess Mary (Emily Blunt). You would too if your fairy tale princess looked like Emily Blunt. Princess Mary’s hand in marriage has been promised, however, to the vain, egocentric General Edward, a match obviously not made for love, but for convenience and social convention.

In case you’re wondering (and you’re probably not, but roll with it) about Gulliver’s Travel’s suitability for the under-10 crowd, it is, more or less. They won’t get Black’s repeated, repetitive musical references, but they’ll probably respond favorably to Black’s incessant mugging, but for anyone familiar with Black’s oeuvre and his tendency, like most (all?) comic actors, to repeat himself until audiences finally turn away, responding favorably will be next to impossibly. But as the old, late-night commercials used to promise us, “Wait, there’s more.” Gulliver’s ascendency into the king’s favorite barely gets us to the halfway mark. Gulliver still has to fend off an invading armada (modeled, presumably on the Spanish Armada), act as Cyrano to Horatio, and get into not one, but two fights with a mecha-equipped opponent. Gulliver’s lies catch up with him, as expected, but the lesson here seems to be: “Don’t get caught,” and not “Don’t lie.”

What’s left to say about "Gulliver’s Travels"? That, even with low expectations, disappointment will follow? That it wastes talent left, right, and center (field)? That Black’s entered the downslope of a career as a lead? That the CG flips from passable to cartoonish from scene to scene? That, ultimately, there’s little (actually, no) reason to see "Gulliver’s Travels" in a movie theater, let alone in 3D (with premium 3D prices)? All, sadly (or maybe not so sadly), true. The money you save by not paying to see "Gulliver’s Travels" can be used on any number of better family films (e.g., "Tangled").

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