Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Movie Review: Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver’s Travels **
Directed by:
Rob Letterman.
Written By: Joe Stillman and Nicholas Stoller based on the book by Jonathan Swift.
Starring: Jack Black (Lemuel Gulliver), Jason Segel (Horatio), Emily Blunt (Princess Mary), Amanda Peet (Darcy Silverman), Billy Connolly (King Theodore), Chris O'Dowd (General Edward), T.J. Miller (Dan), James Corden (Jinks), Catherine Tate (Queen Isabelle), Emmanuel Quatra (King Leopold).

Jack Black is one of the most talented comedic actors working right now. When he goes over the top, like he does in almost every role he plays, it can be hilarious. Yet, like actors like Jim Carrey or Robin Williams, he has a tendency to go a little too far over the top. He does his best work when he works with a director who can rein him in - even just by a little. He does not have one of those directors in his new film Gulliver’s Travels and the result is that Black plays almost the entire movie in overdrive and after a while that wears thin.

Gulliver’s Travels is of course based on the classic novel by Jonathan Swift. However, other than the basic premise of a man from our world who crash lands in a world where he is a giant, there is very little in common with the classic. Perhaps that’s just as well - I always found the original to be a little dull.

This time, Gulliver is a loser working in the mailroom of a New York newspaper who has had a crush on the travel editor (Amanda Peet) for years, but never built up the nerve to ask her out. A misunderstanding leads her to believe that he is actually a talented travel writer - so she sends him out on a solo piece near the Bermuda triangle. Needless to say, that is how he comes to land in Lilypot. This is an old time Kingdom, with its class structure, old time manners and of course a beautiful Princess (Emily Blunt). Gulliver is first seen as a horrific beast, and this is when he befriends Horatio (Jason Segal), who has a crush on the Princess. Soon however, Gulliver saves Lilypot from her enemies, and becomes a hero. He quickly remolds Lilypot into a New York city clone. And although he is loved by nearly everyone, General Edward (Chris O’Dowd), doesn’t trust him - and may go so far as to sell out his homeland.

Black is a charming actor, and I cannot help but find him at least somewhat amusing in all of his roles. Here, he makes Gulliver into a character right in his wheelhouse. It’s an okay performance, but as the movie wears on, it wears a little thin. I much preferred Jason Segal and Emily Blunt, who have an undeniable charm and sweetness to them in their scenes together.

Shot in 3-D, Gulliver’s Travels is not as painful visually as The Last Airbender or Clash of the Titans were. The 3-D effects are used sparingly, and for whatever reason, the screen doesn’t seem quite as dark or muddy as normal. It doesn’t really add anything to the movie, but for once, it doesn’t really detract either.

However Gulliver’s Travels doesn’t ever really add up to anything. There are several good moments in the movie - some isolated incidents and lines that are amusing, but the film never really achieves any real comic momentum. Perhaps the reason Black goes as far over the top as he does in the film is because he knows there really is not much else in the film. Gulliver’s Travels is far from an awful movie, but its one that never really adds up to anything.

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