The dozen or so screen adaptations of â€œGulliver's Travels,â€ drawn from Jon
And that trend goes unbroken with the new, modern â€œGulliver's Travelsâ€ 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 â€” 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 â€” 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 â€œthe beastâ€ 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 â€œMonsters vs. Aliensâ€ and â€œShark Taleâ€) and a pair of gag-writing scripters invest Swift's scathing narrative with contemporary pop-culture jokes (blushes on â€œStar Warsâ€ and â€œTitanicâ€ and glancing references to KISS and Times Square gaudiness).
Mainly, the story is confined to Gulli
While Black (eminently likable and capable of much better) works his usual routine as a bombastic bumbler with a supposedly touching undercurrent of sincerity and vulnerability, he's surrounded by a top-notch cast toiling in his shadow. Peet is perky but largely wasted; Billy Connolly as King Theodore and Jason Segel as tiny sidekick Horatio are pale company; and Emily Blunt as frosty Princess Mary is a dreary damsel in distress.
Only Irish comic actor Chris O'Dowd (hilarious in the BBC's â€œThe IT Crowdâ€) holds his own against Black. He plays the pompous, pint-size General Edward, a strutting martinet in weirdly sculpted facial foliage, and delivers a few cutting lines that are faintly fitting of Swift.
But, beyond that, â€œGulliver's Travelsâ€ is sorely short on satire and its laughs are definitely Lilliputian. It's a movie that should quickly disappear into every multiplex's Bermuda Triangle.
â€” Dennis King
Starring: Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly.
(Brief rude humor, mild language and action)