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‘Gulliver' swiftly devolves into small-minded comedy

The new, modern “Gulliver's Travels” features an oafish Jack Black as Lemuel Gulliver and casts the story as a lowbrow, slapstick slacker comedy.
Oklahoman Published: December 22, 2010

The dozen or so screen adaptations of “Gulliver's Travels,” drawn from Jonathan Swift's dense, dark and misanthropic 18th-century satire on human nature have mainly cast the story as a lively children's narrative. Rarely have filmmakers attempted to plumb the more complex literary, political or historical depths of the classic novel.

And that trend goes unbroken with the new, modern “Gulliver's Travels” that features an oafish Jack Black as Lemuel Gulliver and casts the story as a lowbrow, slapstick slacker comedy.

Jack Black among the Lilliputians must have sounded like a hilarious concept to filmmakers determined to trade on Black's bigfoot comedy. Lumbering, preening, mugging and breaking out into flights of rock 'n' roll fancy, Black delivers a painfully chaotic performance that's essentially a catalog of all his familiar antics, gimmicks and bad-boy shtick.

His Gulliver is a mailroom slacker at a slick New York newspaper — a tiny cog in a giant operation. Having harbored a longtime crush on pretty travel editor Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet), Gulliver cons and bumbles his way into a trial writing assignment — traveling to the Caribbean to check out the myth of the Bermuda Triangle.

After a quick and silly setup, Gulliver is whisked away on stormy waves to the miniature land of Lilliput, where he's first shackled and deemed “the beast” by the quaint kingdom's tiny people. Then, a few butt-crack jokes and bodily fluid gags later, this slovenly giant in T-shirt, baggy shorts and Converse tennies is hailed as a giant savior and protector of the storybook realm against the archenemy Blefuscudians.

Director Rob Letterman (whose credits include animated features “Monsters vs. Aliens” and “Shark Tale”) and a pair of gag-writing scripters invest Swift's scathing narrative with contemporary pop-culture jokes (blushes on “Star Wars” and “Titanic” and glancing references to KISS and Times Square gaudiness).

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“Gulliver's Travels”

PG1:251½ stars

Starring: Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly.

(Brief rude humor, mild language and action)


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