By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
Some adaptations are merely loose. This one is untied, untethered, and untoward.
Jack Black, who also served as an executive producer, stars as Lemuel Gulliver, a newsroom mailroom clerk in modern-day Manhattan who bluffs his way into an assignment from the travel editor, played by Amanda Peet, with whom Gulliver is head-over-heels infatuated.
His assignment: to head for Bermuda and write a travel feature about the Bermuda Triangle.
One fierce storm and shipwreck later, he is tossed ashore, and ends up flat on his back in the undiscovered land of Lilliput, a magical kingdom where he towers over the six-inch-tall populace.
Among the Lilliputians are the king and queen, played by Billy Connolly and Catherine Tate; their daughter Mary, the princess, played by Emily Blunt; a by-the-book general, played by Chris O’Dowd, to whom Mary is unenthusiastically betrothed; and a commoner named Horatio, played by Jason Segel, who only has eyes for Mary but is of too low a station for their romance to have a chance.
The gigantic Gulliver will, of course, coach Horatio into overcoming his Lilliputian limitations and help him win over Mary. And this “beast” will win over his new countrymen by fighting their battles for them.
Animation director Rob Letterman (Shark Tale, Monsters vs. Aliens) tries his hand at live action in Lilliput and comes up very much, um, short. Perhaps all his creative energy went into the visual tricks and perspective illusions in this special-effects-a-thon, so that there was nothing left to build the comedy as a comedy, which it is supposed to be. That element gets shockingly short shrift.
Performers as talented as Blunt, Segel, and Connolly ought not to be mere window dressing; they should be allowed to be funny, as they are in their other comedies.
Instead, screenwriters Joe Stillman and Nicholas Stoller fashion their narrative to showcase Black’s strengths and, in the process, lose track of what the script is supposed to be about.
Besides, this time out, the inventive comic actor’s charms register as both forced and overfamiliar.
The moviemakers large and small were apparently interested only in the basic premise of the source property, because they have pretty much ignored just about all the satirical stylings of Swift’s novel, those jabs he fashioned about human nature.
By the time that the scenarists have worked a robot/transformer into the mix (by the time, that is, that everyone involved has just plain given up on this entertainment having any artistic merit or integrity whatsoever), we realize just how unimaginative and unambitious this empty-calories-galore project really is.
Oh, nearly forgot: Gulliver’s Travels is also, for no good reason, available in 3-D. So not only is it visually dimmer than it needs to be, but it remains a dispiriting viewing experience no matter how many dimensions you see it in.
Which is why we’ll look down on 1½ stars out of 4 for a halfhearted contemporary reimagining of the satirical Jonathan Swift fantasy, Gulliver’s Travels, a special-effects adventure comedy and condescending kidflick in which the laughs are even smaller than the Lilliputians.