Film Review: Land of the Lost

Danny McBride and Will Ferrell make it worth a trip to 'Land of the Lost.'

In the prologue to Land of the Lost, a spacesuit-clad human finds himself transported into an unknown world. As he turns to take in his surroundings, the music cueing a sense of foreboding, we see a T-Rex, reflected in his solar-proofed helmet, close in and chomp down. There’s an uneven mix of suspense and humor, along with a bit of shock that a comedy is so willing to kill off its characters, which is capped by an abrupt cut to the title card. If you can laugh through this sequence, and accept its mix of comedy, suspense and the absurd, you’ll probably be a fan of Land of the Lost.

In another variation of his “over-inflated ego/under-inflated intellect” persona, Will Ferrell plays Dr. Robert Marshall, a scientist who becomes a YouTube joke after a run-in with Matt Lauer on the “Today” show. Dr. Marshall’s pursuit of time warps, which can be activated by a tachyon accelerator, causes him to lose all credibility and reduces him to giving presentations to ungrateful elementary-school children.

From this lowest of lows, he meets The Woman Who Believes in Him (Anna Friel). Fast-forward to a couple of scenes later, and we’re in a boat with Friel and an unsuspecting tour guide (Danny McBride). A quick turn of the tachyon accelerator, and the trio are transported to the land of the lost.

In this peculiar space where the past, present and future exist simultaneously, the audience is willing to tolerate an above-average level of ridiculousness. We can have long, drawn-out chase scenes with T-Rexs (the same ones that ate the first adventurer so summarily), and not only can Ferrell and his gang outrun them, they can pause for wisecracks. This works as long as the jokes are funny enough, but the wild deviations from reality can detract from the humor. Director Brad Silberling, who has done fantasy-comedy before in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, doesn’t try to set up firm rules for this world and violate them for comedy’s sake. Instead, the comedy tends to come from the characters’ total disregard for danger and their all-out irreverence.

When the comedy veers into total chaos, Danny McBride excels at centering the laughs without becoming a total straight man. McBride, whose performance on HBO’s “Eastbound & Down” was a word-of-mouth hit, is the perfect counterpoint to Ferrell’s eager but misguided attempts at adventuring. His inflection always seems to say, “Not that I care, but seriously?,” a confident skepticism that avoids the “wet blanket” role of the straight man. In one such gag, as Ferrell is about to pour hadrosaur urine all over his body to “blend in” with the other dinosaurs, McBride makes Ferrell explain how he harvested the urine, in detail, turning Ferrell’s explanation, not his gross-out act, into the highlight of the scene. With the characters checking each other’s reactions, Silberling is able, barely, to prevent the whole movie from flying, un-tethered, into preposterousness, even once an ape (Jorma Taccone in a suit) and zombie-like aliens are added into the equation.

Visually, the CGI effects suffer from problems of scale and a fake feel, but perhaps that’s to prevent us from getting truly scared when Ferrell is mere inches from a T-Rex, or to replicate the campiness of the original series. The best scenes take place in a desert landscape filled with randomly transported objects, from ice cream trucks to ancient catapults to the remnants of an Urban Outfitters clothing store. These surrealist spaces, oddly enough, evoke Dali’s The Persistence of Time, and somehow bring sense to the nonsense. Within this desert, the characters take refuge in a 1950s motel pool, making it a celebratory oasis where Ferrell, McBride and Taccone indulge in some intoxicating fruit and a bit of bromance.

Like most Ferrell movies, there are lines to quote to make your friends laugh—“That’s how zombies get you: volume!”—and a healthy degree of self-mockery, both of the characters and adventure genre expectations. The film has unapologetically stupid humor, but compared to the 1974 and 1991 television series, it’s dramatically upped the refinement. The best part of Land of the Lost isn’t seeing the dinosaurs, apes and aliens, but watching Ferrell and McBride work off each other, making you wonder why they needed the elaborate set-ups of the land of the lost to begin with.