Land of the Lost

Published: .
Updated: .

David Swindle
Grade: B

My wife is in love with another man.

Or at least I thought she was. As long as I've known her April has been head over heals for Will Ferrell, or "William," as she insists on calling him. We've had to see every Ferrell movie that comes out. From the atrocious ("Blades of Glory,") to the pleasantly mundane ("Semi-Pro,") to the effective laugh-fest ("Step Brothers.")

So I was surprised when "Land of the Lost" came out and she said we could just wait until DVD on it. What? I thought she'd pay to see him read names out of the phonebook for 90 minutes. But she just thought it looked dumb. (And "Blades of Glory" didn't?) So we passed on it the first week. Yet this past weekend it appeared to be the "least worst option" in theatres so off we went.

And behold shock of shocks: "Land of the Lost" really wasn't that bad. In fact it was rather nice, a fun experience with plenty of laughs.

The film adapts the popular Saturday morning TV show of the early ‘70s, remade in the ‘90s, of a time traveling scientist who develops a device which transports him and his companions to an alternate world inhabited by dinosaurs, aliens, and ape-creatures.

For the adaptation the film begins with controversial paleontologist/physicist Dr. Rick Marshall (Ferrell) on the Today show with Matt Lauer to explain his new book on inter-dimensional travel. Lauer confronts Marshall with the scientific community's skepticism toward his ideas and an entertaining Ferrell-style confrontation ensues.

Years later Marshall is discouraged and no longer pursuing his oddball theories. Until he's visited by Cambridge student Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel) who believes in his ideas and insists he finish his time travel machine. Reinvigorated, Marshall does and the two go out on a field mission to test the machine.

They visit a tourist trap run by Will Stanton (Danny McBride playing the kind of redneck he's become the best in the business at depicting) and activate the device. It works and transports the three to the Land of the Lost - a parallel universe where they meet a banished monkey prince named Chaka, a super-intelligent tyrannosaurs rex, and alien creatures in costumes that seem no different than the ones from the original TV show. A comedic adventure plot ensues that really doesn't take itself that seriously.

And that's why the film works. It's a postmodern picture that knows its concept is ludicrous - a farfetched joke - and uses it as an opportunity for McBride and Ferrell to improvise and elaborate on the characters for which they're known. This film would not have worked if it was Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider instead of Ferrell and McBride. If this was one of Sandler's Happy Madison productions they wouldn't have realized how dumb the concept was. And the jokes would not have been nearly as funny.

Here's a question: why do I love McBride's redneck characters - see "Pineapple Express" and his hilarious HBO show "Eastbound and Down" -- but loath the menace Larry the Cable Guy? It's not that the redneck character is bad so much as how one does it. Larry's comedy is stupid stupidity. (He's also a fraud, pretending to be a redneck named Larry when he really isn't.) McBride's take on the redneck is smart stupidity. His jokes have wit and he doesn't pretend to be the character he plays. The future of redneck comedy lies with McBride. The honorable tradition began with the great Jeff Foxworthy, fell into painful mediocrity when Larry took up the torture, and now has a chance for redemption in the comedic skills of McBride.

Ferrell gives another satisfying variation on his arrogant jerk/idiot man-child persona. "Land of the Lost" is filled with scenes that rank among the best of his filmography. Ferrell has several run-ins with an intelligent tyrannosaurus rex who quickly becomes his rival. His attempt to figure out a way to hide from the dinosaur - in much the same way as hunters camouflage themselves from deer - is one of the strongest scenes. And the film's conclusion is a riot, ending the picture on a comedic high note.

On the one hand it's a joy to see Ferrell making great movies. On the other, though, a part of me wants to see his career go down in flames, reduced to David Spade-level irrelevance. The less competition I have for my wife's affections the better. But I suppose if he continues to make movies as funny as "Land of the Lost" it might be worth tolerating.