This crazy trend to make 3D movies these days only pays off if... let me think... it has really cool freakin' 3D looking things popping out at you. The only thing popping out during Jack Black's insipid new movie Gulliver's Travels were my eyes in astonishment at how bland, generic and totally sluggish the entire flick was on every level.
Sticking only vaguely close to the original novel, Lemuel Gulliver (Black) is a lowly mailroom clerk who lies about being a travel writer to impress a woman in the office (Amanda Peet), who then sends him on an assignment in the Bermuda Triangle. After a Perfect Storm-type hurricane, he suddenly finds himself a beached whale and giant among men on the hidden island of Lilliput. The tiny people there are in the midst of a war and have a miniature kingdom to protect and see Gulliver as their immediate savior. From there, it's all about typical Jack Black antics and everyone staying on cruise control. Gulliver's has the requisite fairy tale scenario: Queen, king, princess with suitor-below-her-station, and the evil general vying for the princess' hand. All the actors playing these roles (Catherine Tate, Billy Connolly, Emily Blunt, Jason Segal, Chris O'Dowd) are usually capable of some entertaining stuff, but here in Lilliput they're stuck, meandering in the crosshairs of a dull and lifeless paycheck movie.
In Jonathan Swift's 18th-century satirical novel, the story of the Lilliputians, if handled right, is a good morality tale. The most creative film adaptation was the Preston Sturges directed film Sullivan's Travels, starring Joel McCrea. This flick touched on the subject through a writer's journey into poverty and seeing that people are all decent and the same no matter what class they belong to. But here, that message is only hinted at by stupid little references, like "it takes a big person to accomplish that" or "there are no small people."
Black's best role was in Tim Robbins' Bob Roberts wherein he was actually acting and not playing some sort of extended version of his smarmy self. Here, he embarrasses himself in every scene he gets. We get the snippet version of Black playing Guitar Hero, urinating on a burning castle, dressing up in a little girl's doll dress, smirking, dancing like a dolt and using the word "dude" a lot. Basically, what we have here is a severe case of posing. We get Jack Black Lite - I can't believe I'm saying this, but the movie would have benefitted from his usual over-the-top performance. I know he has kids, but does he have to join the rank of actors with children (we're talking Eddie Murphy here) who play it safe with lousy movies?
Shark Tale's Rob Letterman apparently directs from another room using a script by Nick Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Joe Stillman (Shrek). You'd think with this kind of talent we'd get something more visually substantial and at the very least a few chuckles here and there. Instead we are pummeled by lame pop culture references, including a nonsensical Iron Man rip-off, a tiny person's Kiss concert and a tired and over worked Titanic "king of the world" parody. Really, this has no place in any movie, adult, kid or otherwise. But the most painful to watch was the horrendously choreographed dance number to Edwin Starr's anti-Vietnam anthem, "War (What is it Good For?)"
This entire flick is a disappointment. Kid movies have been upgraded - didn't the filmmakers get the memo? Missing were the in-jokes for adults (as in Shrek) who get dragged by their kids to see these flicks. Gulliver's wasn't so bad as to be totally evil, it was just plain innocuous. Devoid of any real humor, the dreary Gulliver's Travels is stale on every account, a pathetic attempt at entertainment while lacking any 3D pizzazz. Even kids will notice the vacuum created here as it just feels lazy. To quote Edwin Starr, "Gulliver's Travels what is it good for? Absolutely nothing... say it again."
Starring Jack Black, Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Chris O'Dowd
Director: Rob Letterman