'Land of the Lost': Josh Wolk's Pop Culture Club wonders what went wrong
Welcome back to the Pop Culture Club, in which we meet every week to discuss a movie, TV show, or DVD that was assigned at the end of the previous week’s column. I’d like to begin this gathering with an apology: I’m sorry, I had no idea that Land of the Lost was going to suck this much.
I’m a Will Ferrell fan, and will always give him the benefit of the doubt. On Monday (before I’d seen the movie), EW writer Chris Nashawaty wrote a column all about how the low opening-weekend gross for LOTL was a sign that America was getting tired of Ferrell’s doughy shtick. As someone who thought Step Brothers was unnervingly hilarious, and is still residually creeped out by Ferrell’s unapologetically loathsome car dealer Ashley Schaeffer in Eastbound & Down, I was determined to like LOTL just to prove Chris wrong. Well, Chris, you win.
Now, I’m not a big fan of writers getting into their state of mind before seeing a movie/interviewing a star/following a story. It’s gratuitous, and I’m still scarred from a Harry Knowles article from a few years ago in which he went into nauseating detail about the diarrhea he was stricken with before visiting a set. And yet here I go: I am now suffering from a herniated disc, which makes it impossible to sit down, so I had to see LOTL while leaning up against the back wall of the theater. I think it’s relevant here, because seeing this movie that way has actually made my back pain a little more tolerable. Now, every time I wince from a spasm, I can say, “It could be worse: I could still be at Land of the Lost.”
Every summer I see trailers advertising actors I like in typically overblown blockbusters, and I think, Maybe that guy can elevate it into something good! But that elevation has only happened once in recent memory: Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man. LOTL was just a bunch of boring CGI set pieces grafted on to Ferrell’s usual shtick (trotting around in briefs, making random reference-filled exclamations like “Captain Kirk’s nipples!”). Ferrell’s beady-eyed stare and manboy, spastic flailing work in either everyday (Step Brothers) or surreal (Anchorman, Elf) situations. But big-budget fantasy action needs something to ground it, otherwise it’s just a lot of noise with no consequence whatsoever. We’re told to imagine a land with dinosaurs that are realistically animated to look ferocious — but Ferrell dopily running in exaggerated zigzags to escape the beast just undercuts everything. Why bother making a beast that looks that terrifying if you’re going to void any danger? There’s a reason that Peter Boyle’s Young Frankenstein was a clown. Can you imagine that movie if the monster was horribly violent and tore children apart? You would have had a very different take on Gene Wilder.
Ferrell’s character, as a whole, made no sense. For the plot to work, he had to be a genius. But Ferrell doesn’t play geniuses, at least not when he wants to go to his usual touchstones. A genius would not be oblivious to a giant bloodsucking insect on his back. A genius would not think that Cha-Ka was saying, “Chorizo tacos.” And a genius wouldn’t pour dinosaur urine on his head twice. But Ferrell had to do those bits because that’s what he does. Fine. Then he shouldn’t play a smart character.
The blame isn’t all on him. With another actor, the movie still would have been a series of frantic, pointless action pieces. And it wasn’t helped by having a director, Brad Silberling, who has no real eye for either action or comedy, mistiming many bits between Ferrell and Danny McBride. And ultimately, as we discussed last week, who gives a crap about the old TV show, Land of the Lost?
Okay, I’m sorry to have put everybody through that. But I’d like to hear your take. Did anyone like this movie at all? (Or should I ask, Did anyone see this movie at all?) Are you sick of Ferrell? Do you think his persona could work in a better big-budget action flick, or will it always be an awkward fit?
Before we begin the discussion, I have to give my pick for next week. Now, I know I just gave you something crappy to watch, and it was pleasure-free. But this week I’m going to give you something crappy to watch that is immensely pleasurable. I’m talking about NBC’s I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! Wait, hear me out! I’ve been watching, and it’s so ridiculously terrible — Boneheaded “celebrities!” Cheap, asinine challenges! — that you’ve just gotta see it. Come on, it’s on four times a week, you can afford to watch it once!