Jack Black gesticulates wildly through much of Gulliver's Travels, trying desperately to garner easy laughs with bodily humor and his chubby charm. This juvenile effects romp, loosely based on a Jonathan Swift novel, throws exaggerated effects at the screen to see what sticks, but not much does. Gulliver's Travels is a film kids might enjoy in the back of a Honda Odyssey on the way to grandma's house but will easily forget when the disc gets lost under the seat.
Newspaper mailroom slacker Lemuel Gulliver (Black) is a man of much talk and little action. After a new hire takes his expected promotion, Gulliver forges a writing sample to get the attention of office crush Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet), the paper's travel writer. Darcy sends him to cover a story about the Bermuda Triangle, where Gulliver is sucked into a giant waterspout. Gulliver awakens in restraints on the beach in Lilliput, surrounded by miniature people who begin calling him "the beast." Gulliver only escapes indentured servitude by saving Lilliput's king (Billy Connolly) and princess (Emily Blunt) from a fire.
An early glimpse at the poor filmmaking on display in Gulliver's Travels is afforded in the first twenty odd minutes. The jerky haste with which the film deals with Gulliver's journey from the mailroom to Lilliput town hero is alarming. Gulliver's Travels may be a children's film, but even kids will have trouble keeping up with the film's breakneck editing. Director Rob Letterman, whose credits include animated features Shark Tale and Monsters vs. Aliens, seems intent on racing from one lame sight gag to the next: Gulliver squashes some townsmen with his half-exposed ass! Gulliver urinates on the king! Art thou not amused?
Gulliver's meteoric rise irks General Edward (Chris O'Dowd), as does Gulliver's friendship with Horatio (Jason Segel), a rival suitor of the princess. One of the film's only amusing bits is Gulliver's use of popular films to illustrate his past. From his death and resurrection aboard the Titanic to his time as an Avatar, Gulliver impresses everyone but Edward with his fantastical history. These tall tales and their subsequent reenactment by the townspeople provide a glimpse at a smarter Gulliver's Travels than what made it to cinemas.
Fox spent over $100 million on this 85-minute gag reel, much of which went toward special effects. There are some flashy shots in Gulliver's Travels, but I was never impressed by those featuring both Gulliver and the tiny citizens of Lilliput. For example, a scene where Horatio rides Gulliver looks no more realistic than the classic shot of a stationary car placed against a moving backdrop. The final confrontation between Gulliver and Edward is no more satisfying, with Black taking swings at an obviously imaginary enemy.
The film's narrative feels more like an outline, with Gulliver moving from one obstacle to the next with the goal of wooing Darcy, who winds up in Lilliput when she realizes Gulliver's writing sample was lifted from a Frommer's travel guide. Black does his best and Blunt and Segel slum it admirably, but all that energy and willingness to pander cannot save Gulliver's Travels. Disjointed and infantile, Gulliver's Travels will please only the least demanding audience.
PICTURE AND SOUND:
Per their policy, Fox's screening disc does not include the final transfer or soundtrack, so I cannot comment on these areas of the disc. If a retail copy becomes available to me, I will update my review accordingly.
Only one mercifully brief extra is included: a gag reel (1:29). This isn't really a gag reel at all but an outtake from the scene where Gulliver arrives in Bermuda.
Jack Black continues to dilute the work he did in films like School of Rock and Tropic Thunder with farce like Gulliver's Travels. As a giant among men, Gulliver protects Lilliput from all foes in a film Jonathan Swift should be glad he is not living to see. If you're eight years old and bodily humor is your thing, a cursory viewing may be warranted, otherwise Skip It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.