Rated PG for brief rude humor, mild language and action, 85 minutes
“Gulliver’s Travels”: How Jack Black ruined a classic story
“Gulliver’s Travels” is a big lump of coal of a movie this holiday season. A waste of talent, time, and big studio dollars, it’s a giant, painful and inexcusable embarrassment. A very, very loose contemporary remake of the Jonathan Swift classic (i.e. it has very little, if anything to do with that story), this is a trip full of the tired Black schtick he’s been getting away with in movies since “School of Rock.”
Black is Lemuel Gulliver, a mailroom employee of a large New York newspaper. He has a crush on the publication’s travel writer (Amanda Peet) so he pretends to be a travel writer himself. She gives himself an assignment to cover the Bermuda Triangle, only to become entangled in a big storm that catapults him to Lilliput, where he is a giant among many small people, including Horatio (Jason Segel), Princess Mary (Emily Blunt), her father the King of Lilliput (Billy Connolly) and the evil general (Chris O’Dowd). Gulliver becomes a huge hero among the little people who don’t know who he really is.
A lame 3-D attempt at updating the timeless Swift story, it's a huge mess and Swift would likely turn over in his grave if he knew what Hollywood did with the latest adaptation of his classic satire. “Gulliver’s Travels” is one of the worst films of 2010 and easily the worst film of Black’s career, which is saying a lot given some of the bad films he’s made of late, and only underscores what an annoying performer he can be. Much like his lower-brow counterpart Adam Sandler, he essentially plays the same slacker character in every film, a version of himself that ends up riffing some rock song by the end of the film.
It’s easy to pinpoint the failure of this awful “Gulliver’s Travels” on the likable Black given his star status, but then he’s in every frame of the film, he also co-produced the film and it seems to have been written with Black’s (lack of) talents in mind (we can only guess whose idea it was to have Black unzipping and pissing on a fire). To its credit, a few scenes are goofy fun and the first half of the film is mildly tolerable, but it falls apart midway through in a huge, bizarre way, with the cringe-worthy arrival of a “Transformers”-like character that throws the film way off course. It reminds of the utter failure of another film re-make, “Wild Wild West,” except on a much larger scale.
In the wake of this failure, Black takes down the director, Rob Letterman, who serviceably helmed the animated hits “Monsters and Aliens” and “Shark Tale” but seems to let Black run amok here among the many fake, tiny model sets, along with wasting an A-list cast including Peet, Blunt, Segel and Connolly. Nicholas Stoller, director and writer of the recent, sharp “Get Him to the Greek” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” gets credit for the screenplay, but how much of his original script actually ended up on screen is debatable.
Detractors may say that this is all just silly fun geared toward kids, but even kids movies should be enjoyable. Inexplicably, the climax has Black and company singing the classic rock song “War” yet ironically the lyrics of that song could essentially describe this movie. What is “Gulliver’s Travels” good for? Absolutely nothing. A big, terrible misfire that isn’t worth the trip.