It's Sloppy Comedy Weekend at the box office!
While there are at least four credited screenwriters on new releases "The Hangover" and "Land of the Lost," both films stumble along with the sense that they were completely and totally improvised, leaving the editor to find a story and a rhythm in post-production.
This works to the benefit of "The Hangover," which has the anything-can-happen flow of an R-rated indie, but produces a strange and unengaging mix in "Land of the Lost," which proves that big-budget, effects-heavy blockbusters require a tighter leash.
Every single summer, it seems like there's a pre-ordained R-rated sleeper comedy hit of the season, where the hype starts building so early that by the time the movie comes out, it isn't even a sleeper anymore. I'm thinking "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Superbad" and "The Wedding Crashers," where susceptible viewers are told for months ahead-of-time that this is the movie they're going to tell their friends about. "The Hangover" was anointed back at Showest and it'll probably fulfill its expectations in large part because it's pretty darned funny. It just isn't quite as funny as the trumped up blurbs are trying to say it is.
"The Hangover" is basically "Old School 2.0," another story about a trio of men resisting the inertia of relationships and responsibility and reveling in regression. I'd guess you could say that Bradley Cooper takes the Vince Vaughn part, while Ed Helms is filling in for Will Ferrell. Zach Galifianakis is, thankfully, his own man, because who would really want to be a proxy for Luke Wilson?
Artistically and thematically, Todd Phillips hasn't shown any real evolution, but his strength as a director is all about enabling, so he stands back and lets his stars go. Galifianakis may not be on the verge of stardom after "The Hangover" (folks of his physical type don't carry movies all that often), but he can definitely expand his niche as go-to bearded oddball after a performance that's all about bafflingly hilarious choices, out-of-left-field line readings and bizarro physical bits. Helms gets perhaps the most fully conceived character arc, plus he gets to sing "Stu's Song," a ballad all the cool kids are sure to be mimicking this summer, or maybe I just got that impression after listening to Warner Brothers publicists sing along for nearly four hours while awaiting an interview. Cooper starts the movie with true A-list swagger and bravado, but gets mostly lost in the chaos of the movie's second half.
Probably if one wanted to, one could get outraged (frustrated?) by the movie's depiction of women as strippers, whores and harpies, but Phillips' interest in female characters as anything more than punchlines or excuses for nudity has never been high. The random effeminate Asian villain is also trucking in one of pop culture's oldest and most damning stereotypes, but just because I winced at every word out of his mouth doesn't mean that the core "Hangover" demo isn't going to find Ken Jeong's retrograde Mr. Chow to be utterly hilarious and quotable. I'm also a bit skeptical if somebody with Mike Tyson's history of abuse and sexual violence should really be celebrated as a goofball eccentric, though Iron Mike made me laugh.
Actually, "The Hangover" pretty much demands you leave your Political Correctness Cap at home and urges you to eschew your Thinking Cap as well. I'd probably have enjoyed the movie just a bit more if those hats weren't a permanent part of my wardrobe. Just laugh at the escalating madness and stick around for the closing credits.
Actually, why do so many critics feel the need to tell people to stay for the "Hangover" credits? The reason to stay starts the instant the movie left. If you're one of those people who stands up when they *think* the movie's over before the credits roll, you don't deserve any additional enjoyment I might try to provide.
"Land of the Lost"
"Land of the Lost" is a dreadful movie that's full of funny moments and you can excuse it all you want as a big budget summer stoner movie, but that doesn't make it good. It just means that if you approach the movie with the proper frame of mind, you can get laughter out of it.
There. I said it. There are funny things in "Land of the Lost" and I didn't not-laugh. Is that enough for you?
None of what's funny about "Land of the Lost" has anything to do with the crappy classic TV show upon which its based, or the reimagining of said show courtesy of credited writers Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas. Dr. Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell), Holly (Anna Friel) and Will (Danny McBride) go through a time vortex and end up in the Land of the Lost with dinosaurs and Sleestacks. From there, the plot is nearly an impediment. You have characters running around being chased by CG creatures or people in suits and none of it is even slightly thrilling or suspenseful or exciting. The movie is at its funniest, when people are just sitting around a campfire or by a swimming pool saying ridiculous things. That's all fine and well, but if I were Universal, I'd wonder why I spent Event Movie money for Indie Movie returns.
The effects are not good, but there's some question as to how intentionally bad they are. The original "Land of the Lost" is still beloved for its campy cheapness, there there's ample evidence that director Brad Silberling and company wanted Grumpy the T-Rex to look good, or wanted the Sleestacks to look better than they originally did. He doesn't and they don't, or at least not proportionately to the budget.
Little effort has been made to weave Ferrell and McBride's comedy into a "Land of the Lost" framework, but great effort has been made to carve out gaping holes in the plot to let them do their respective things. The movie is full of long scenes where McBride or Ferrell just go off on a jag and you can almost hear Silberling muttering, "This is funny, but if I keep this long scene where Will Ferrell pours urine on himself three times, I'm going to have to lose a connective scene to an actual plot point" or, "If I let this totally irrelevant scene where the characters get drunk/high go on for 10 minutes, people will laugh, but they'll forget what the characters were doing beforehand." And in every case, the digressions won out. So it's weird. You sit for long stretches where set pieces fail on every level and then you laugh out loud at a PG-13-skirting entendre or an strange pop culture reference or a rambling bit of improv from McBride. There's also a difficult to defend feeling that Jorma Taccone's Chacka is inevitable hilarious. For many viewers, this will be the first extended on-camera exposure to the incredibly talented Lonely Island comic and it's too bad that he's little more than a groping Neanderthal Jar-Jar Binks.
Two things about "Land of the Lost" that are worthy of unqualified praise:
In the past three weeks, Michael Giacchino has already been responsible for the scores to "Star Trek," "Up" and now "Land of the Lost." The first question: When does the dude sleep? The second question: Is any contemporary composer more perfectly tapped into the melodies of the zeitgeist?
And the second bit of praise goes to production designer Bo Welch, responsible for several memorable backdrops and environments.
Otherwise, viewers are appearing to be waiting to catch "Land of the Lost" on DVD and they'll be able to watch it in whatever altered state they prefer.