Jack Black, Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Billy Connolly, Amanda Peet
Nicholas Stoller, Joe Stillman (book by Jonathan Swift)
20th Century Fox
I Don't Know...with Lemuel Gulliver
Little and Large
Jack Black Thinks Big
Gulliver's Foosball Challenge
War Song Dance
Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character Jack Black
Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character Jason Segel
Life After Film School Rob Letterman of Gulliver’s Travels
Have you noticed that for the last few Jack Black films, or so it seems, you get to the end of the film and find yourself muttering "Oh, well. It was a Jack Black film?"
Is this a compliment? An insult? Is it simply a sign that Black has cornered himself into a cinematic rut and either he or the studios won't let him out of it?
It's hard to say who's to blame, but in this re-imagining of Gulliver's Travels tale the only true conclusion that one can reach is that "It's a Jack Black film."
What's a Jack Black film, you ask?
A Jack Black film is a goodhearted comedy that allows Black to put on full display the two cinematic notes he has mastered, broad comedy and the puppy dog look. A Jack Black film isn't so much funny as it is a film that makes you like him enough that you'll laugh, or at least chuckle, at most everything he does. In a Jack Black film, Black inevitably plays someone who either possesses a vastly overblown ego or a raging case of insecurity. Most of the time, a Jack Black film allows Black to be the good guy who loves old people and little kids, wins the girl even when she's dreadfully out of his league and, somewhere in the film, a musical montage, reference or completely inappropriate segment will occur.
Gulliver's Travels, only loosely based upon Swift's 300-year-old writings, has been reduced to a Jack Black film.
In this version, Black plays Lemuel Gulliver, one of the little people at a big time newspaper with an undisclosed crush on the travel editor, Darcy (Amanda Peet), and no actual ambition or initiative to match his occasionally over-inflated sense of self. When a series of mishaps leads to Gulliver landing a writing assignment to explore the Bermuda Triangle, Gulliver ends up, of course, in the land of Lilliput incarcerated alongside Horatio (Jason Segel), who himself harbors a crush for the land's Princess (Emily Blunt) despite her being promised to the land's general (Chris O'Dowd) by her father (Billy Connolly).
Are you following this?
Do you even care?
Virtually everyone involved with this project, with the possible exception of Black, should have known better. Director Rob Letterman has given us both Shark Tale and Monsters vs. Aliens. While neither of his previous films is particularly brilliant, Gulliver's Travels is a considerable step backward that either points to Letterman's inability to work with live actors or to his being overrun by the abysmal script constructed by Nicholas Stoller and Joe Stillman, both of whom have credits such as Get Him to the Greek and Shrek films and really should have known that nothing here was working.
The sad thing here is that the majority of the cast actually seems to know that this film is woefully lacking. Black seems to be going through the motions, Blunt appears completely disinterested and Chris O'Dowd may be the least effective and least entertaining baddie of the year. Despite being given almost nothing to do, Amanda Peet at least appears to be giving it a decent shot with the exception of a laughably bad rock music montage involving Edwin Starr's "War" which may just put the peace movement back a few years. Jason Segel would have been a much stronger lead, his sincerity far more convincing than Black's and his natural height an advantage in certain of the film's scenes.
There's an occasional bit in the film that makes you think "Maybe we're turning a corner here, " but then we quickly move back into potty humor, Jack Black silliness or urinating on cities - at least they made the urine actually have a yellow tint to it!
The film is yet the latest waste of 3-D technology, particularly noticeable given the obvious possibilities between Gulliver and the Lilliputians and some of the kid-friendly action sequences in the film.
There are so many aspects of the basic storyline here that don't work, and because the film's laughs fall flat and action is less than impressive it's hard not to sit in the film thinking about them. How does a travel editor at a large newspaper not fact check an article before sending off a mailroom newbie on a boat alone to the Bermuda triangle? How is it that the Lilliputians, obvious masters of technology, have never managed to assemble the "weapon" that confronts Gulliver and nearly brings him down?
The questions go on and on.
Given that I viewed this film on its opening weekend and a crowd of less than 20, it would appear that Black either needs to expand his repertoire or be incredibly more selective about the projects he accepts. When it comes down to it, there's only one thing to say about Gulliver's Travels - It's a Jack Black film...and that's just not enough.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic