Film Review: ‘Gulliver’s Travels’

Is there any performer more in love with his job than Jack Black? He’s not the greatest actor, he doesn’t choose the best scripts, or work with the finest directors, but he has a sheer and infectious ebullience that elevates the material, no matter how mediocre it is.  Thirty or so years from now, people probably won’t remember Gulliver’s Travels, but they’ll remember Jack Black—it’s no joke to say he’s the Fred Astaire of this generation.

And it’s no joke to say he’s the best part of Gulliver’s Travels, just as he’s the best part of Shallow Hal, Orange County, and a bunch of other vehicles that are all our guilty pleasures. They’re not great, or even really good, but there’s enough smiles to keep you watching.

And that’s Gulliver’s Travels, albeit it’s much more of a kid’s film than Black’s usual saucy romps (Kung-Fu Panda notwithstanding). Here he plays the titular Lemuel Gulliver, slacker mail-room drone for a New York newspaper and secretly in love with the travel editor Darcy (Amanda Peet).

One day, through a series of coincidences, he ends up claiming to be a travel writer to impress Darcy, and she puts him on assignment cover the Bermuda Triangle, and a hop, skip, and waterspout later, he washes up on the island of Lilliput, where all the residents are about 1/10 his size.

But the citizens of Lilliput don’t cotton kindly to strangers, and they tie Gulliver up, suspecting him to be a spy from a rival country (wouldn’t an entirely different country have some distinct cultural traits that would give that away? Isn’t sending a giant man a little too much).

So Gulliver gets tossed in jail where he meets up with Horatio (Jason Segel), a commoner who got thrown in the clink for making eyes at the Princess Mary (Emily Blunt) when her jealous admirer General Edward (Chris O’Dowd) was looking (and for as stringent and draconian as the laws of Lilliput seem to be, there’s a curious lack of prisoners).

And one day, while Gulliver’s performing manual labor, the royal palace catches on fire, trapping the royal family and so forth, and it’s up to Gulliver to stop it using the only means he knows how (I wonder if the screenwriters knew that scene was in the original book), which earns him the favor of the king (Billy Connolly) and a royal pardon for himself and Horatio.

As Gulliver ingratiates himself into the Lilliputian community, spinning tall tales of his adventures (basically retelling movie plots and inserting himself into the choice roles) and taking extreme advantage of their astonishing skills of carpentry (they’re very good builders). He also helps Horatio get a leg up and foot in with Mary, much to growing consternation of Edward, who eventually defects and…

But I’m just summarizing. Gulliver is full of plot holes, odd coincidences, cheap laughs, and, most importantly, big, stupid fun. I don’t care if there’s no reason for Jack Black’s Gulliver to spontaneously break out in song—the performance justifies itself. And while it’s not the greatest of Jack Black vehicles, not even among the lower ranks, it was enjoyable enough for what it was.

So don’t expect anything riveting or even rolling-in-the-aisle funny, it’s just simple fun.

I should also note that viewers shouldn’t expect much from the 3D–other than the whirlpool and occasionally shooting something noticeably in the foreground and something else noticeably in the back, you wouldn’t even remember it’s in 3D. I should also note that the opening Ice Age is worth the ticket price.

  • [A]
    December 27, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Wait, Emily Blunt is in this?

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