If one has to admire Jack Black for anything, it’s that he’s not afraid to bare his flabby, hairless guy on the big screen. Where most men of similar physiques would discreetly-some would say sensibly-cover up such extreme gelatinous lack of tan, Black will purposefully humiliate himself in order to give his audience a sometimes well made chuckle.
Yet like a buddy who’s had one too many at the bar, Black needs someone from making a total ass of himself. When there is someone who knows how to rein his exuberance in, he spits out great frat fare such as “Rock’n Roll High School” or “Kung Fu Panda.” Left unchecked, and it makes “Nacho Libre” look like Howard Hawks.
With this kind of warning, put Black’s interpretation of the oft-performed Lemuel Gulliver somewhere in the middle of his repertoire.
In this 23rd or so twist on the Jonathan Swift classic satire, Gulliver is a ten year veteran of a major newspaper’s mail room. He talks big, but about the only thing he’s good at delivering is an overnight letter. When finally challenged by a fellow editorial flunky, he fakes his c.v. and pulls a travel desk assignment to the Carribbean…and write about the Bermuda Triangle. One major storm later and you can guess where he is.
Like the early 18th Century parody, Black uses this opportunity to stand contemporary mores, values and media icons for all they’re worth. More often than not, he manages to get a decent yuck or two in the process. When he stays close to the original material-such as Gulliver’s mandatory scenes being tied up on the beach or taking out the rival Blefuscian armada-we should give Black his props for adding some nice personal touches to them.
On the other hand, it’s Black’s interaction with the Lilliputians that makes you want to hold the man back. His slacker advice to various members of the tiny isle is so couched in slacker wisdom one wishes Jeff Bridges was around to give Black some tips. Also, making matters worse is Gulliver’s main rival, a Lilliputian named Sir Edward (Chris O’Dowd). This type A-plus pile of political poppycock is played so over the top, you can’t help but want to see him get his inevitable comeuppance. Yet Black’s performance around him and all the other inhabitants of his island of exile is, well, Lilliputian at best, painful at worst.
So instead of what could have been an exotic and exciting romp through Florida’s South Beach ends up more like being lost in Pompano Beach, and with all the starts and stops of the I-95 during evening rush hour to boot. When this latest iteration of “Gulliver’s Travels” gets moving, it does so at a nice clip. The problem is you hit your share of start and stop traffic along the way.
In other words, wait for “Kung Fu Panda 2.” Those guys know how to steer Black to all kinds of awesomeness.
SPECIAL NOTE: The folks at Fox didn’t make this entire movie experience a total waste though. They contracted the guys at Blue Sky to do another original animated short featuring the most beloved character from theIce Age movies, The Scrat. Entitled “Continental Crack-Up,” the bug-eyed vermin ends up responsible for another earth shattering historical event thanks to his acorn obsession. All one can add is when all is said and done, somewhere up in heaven the legendary Chuck Jones is quietly sending his blessings to the character’s creators, Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha. I can’t wait to see what kind of new chaos the critter causes in “Ice Age 4: Continental Drift” (and let the title be a clue for you).