Low-brow. Just expect it from Gulliver’s Travels. When Gulliver ( Jack Black) first arrives at the kingdom of Lilliput and puts out a raging fire by dropping his shorts and urinating, I was astonished by the audience laughter. This is a film unabashedly aimed at teen boys, as are too many of Black’s films.
Black is mailroom clerk and general shlub Lemuel Gulliver, in love with travel section editor Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet). After straight-arrow new hire Dan (local Denver comedian T.J. Miller) goes from Gulliver’s sole employee to his boss in a single day, Gulliver stumbles asking Darcy out and instead gets a travel writing assignment to head down to the Bermuda Triangle and unearth its secrets.
Thus begins a ridiculous sequence of events that lands him on the island of Lilliput, a place where everything is 1/12th normal size, including the daft love triangle of Princess Mary (Emily Blunt), pompous General Edward (Chris O’Dowd) and imprisoned commoner Horatio ( Jason Segel). The story is so predictable that the only pleasure in the film is the special visual effects, and they are impressive, done by the effects team that created the far more entertaining Night At the Museum movies.
One of the great debates in Hollywood is about 3-D, with James Cameron (Avatar) insisting that every film will be in 3-D in a few years. If the 3-D in Gulliver’s Travels is anything to go by, however, 3-D is going to die a slow, lonely death and be a forgotten note in cinematic history. Gulliver’s Travels was the worst, least effective 3-D I’ve seen, and that includes the poorly retrofit 3-D of Clash of the Titans and lazy 3-D of the otherwise creative Alice in Wonderland.
The entire story was inexplicably banal and sophomoric, given that the cast included some excellent actors, including Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada), Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Peet (Syriana) and even Black, who was far superior in Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake, but director Rob Letterman never gave any of the cast roles to work with, and the characters are all so one-dimensional that you can predict their onscreen pratfalls.
Which leads us to the special effects. I’m a fan of special effects, no question, and that’s one reason I really enjoyed Tron: Legacy. In Gulliver’s Travels, however, the visual effects are the story, a fundamental problem that no amount of crude humor from Black or throwaway attempts at a more serious commentary on war between the Lilliputians and Blefuscians can mask.
Having said all of that, there were a few amusing scenes and the film was escapism at its most pure: best seen after you shut off the critical thinking part of your brain. If impressive visual effects and a few chuckles are sufficient for you to be entertained, then you might just be the target audience for this expensive mess of a comedy. Just don’t see it in 3-D.