Many a ’70s kid thrilled to the cheesy TV series “Land of the Lost,” and some of them, it appears, grew up to run movie studios. That might explain why this decrepit property has now been turned into a movie. It doesn’t excuse it, though. The picture is a CGI adventure comedy with a mild line in PG-13 laughs, a surprising lack of fresh adventure (did the filmmakers chop up an early print of “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and smoke it?), and very little in the way of digital dinosaurs and whatnot that hasn’t been paraded past us many times before. It’s worth noting that two of the movie’s funniest scenes — one involving a giant mosquito and the other a confrontation with Matt Lauer on the “Today” show — can be seen for free in the trailer. Just a suggestion.
The plot is a thing of standard-issue silliness. Will Ferrell, in his familiar arrogant-dork mode, is Dr. Rick Marshall, an expert in “quantum paleontology” and inventor of a “tachyon amplifier” that allows its operator to travel “sideways in time.” Rick is an idiot, of course, but he does have one champion — a pretty young English scientist named Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel), who pops up out of nowhere with the news that she has proved Rick’s tachyon theory to be true. Before you can say “weak plot device,” she and Rick are off to the desert in search of a time portal to a parallel dimension. I’m pretty sure that’s what’s going on. Anyway, they find said portal at a dilapidated roadside tourist trap run by a down-at-heels wisecracker named Will Stanton (Danny McBride). Boating through a sort of haunted-cave ride, all three of them suddenly go barreling over a waterfall and down into the Land of Computer Generation, where rampaging behemoths, swooping pterodactyls and bubble-eyed lizard men conspire to justify the movie’s rather large budget.
Rick and company soon acquire a fourth companion, a hairy young Neanderthal named Cha-Ka (Jorma Taccone), the movie’s most amusing character. Cha-Ka doesn’t speak English, of course; but Holly, being a scientist and all, understands his native gibberish, and even his penchant for good-natured bosom-fondling. (Bosom-ownership may have been the chief qualification in casting Friel’s largely decorative character. Too bad the only bosoms actually bared here belong, inevitably, to Ferrell himself.) Before long the group encounters an alien scientist called Enik (John Boylan), who warns them about the Zarn — an evil entity who’s plotting to conquer the Earth with his lizard warriors and can only be stopped by Rick’s tachyon thing. Need we go on?
There are some good bits. A gag about Mesozoic walnuts is a little strained in its set-up, but Ferrell’s panicky dance through a pit full of hatching pterodactyl eggs is a cute nod to the “Alien” movies, and the conversion of a giant crustacean into instant hors d’oeuvres is pretty inspired. Some key scenes are limply shaped, though: When Ferrell wanders into the group’s jungle camp playing a banjo, it’s distractingly pointless — why’s he playing a banjo? (And why, since he’s not really playing it, is he playing it left-handed? Camera logistics shouldn’t draw so much attention.)
It’s a little dismaying to hear a man as funny as Will Ferrell give forth with witless exclamations like “Captain Kirk’s nipples!” But Ferrell seems to be expending a lot of his career in this sort of schlockbuster trash. What’s more distressing is watching Danny McBride, an actor with a fierce comic edge, biding his time through this lackluster film. True, he does get the movie’s funniest line: Coming upon a primitive jungle temple built around what looks like a towering Lucite obelisk, McBride cocks a brow and says, “Maybe this is where our ancient ancestors hosted the Latin Grammys.” It’s downhill from there, though.
Don’t miss Kurt Loder’s review of “Downloading Nancy,” also new in theaters this weekend.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Land of the Lost.”
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