Gulliver’s Travels

Yes, we all know Jack Black’s personality is a bit larger than life. Never one to offer a subtle, nuanced performance, Black is entirely ‘go big or go home,’ which, of course, means he’s the perfect candidate to play one Lemuel Gulliver, a loser with a heart of gold who washes up one day on the shores of Lilliput, a land of little people.

And my ‘little’, we mean reeeallly little.

Gulliver’s Travels, in Black’s capable, funny hands, is a refreshing, amusing bit of movie-making. Part silly, part goofy, but entirely entertaining, it may be thin on plot but isn’t lacking at all when it comes to good, solid fun.

Gulliver is a lowly 10-year-veteran of the mail room at the New York Tribune. He’s got the hots for Travel Editor Darcy (Amanda Peet), but he lacks the big-boy stones to do anything about it. When she offers him his big break, in the form of a ‘fluff’ piece on the Bermuda Triangle, he snaps it up and hops the next plane.

As he boats to his destination, a wicked storm knocks him out, and when he comes to, he’s hog-tied on a Lillipudlian beach, with little, tiny soldiers marching all over him, calling him ‘the Beast’ (I might, too… even if he weren’t 20 times my size).

He’s imprisoned, where he meets commoner Horatio (Jason Segel), who was jailed for making eyes at the comely Princess Mary (Emily Blunt). But then Lilliput comes under siege from a rival land, and Gulliver steps in to save the day (he is huge after all), and he still has time to try to help Horatio woo the fair maiden.

The resident bad guy, General Edward Edwardian (Chris O’Dowd) isn’t taking too kindly to any of this—suddenly his army has been usurped and his lady-in-waiting is looking elsewhere—so he switches sides and makes it his mission to slay ‘the Beast’.

While Gulliver’s Travels obviously lacks the satire of the original (the 1726 book, not the 1977 Richard Harris movie) it’s still an often-hilarious, good-time family flick. The screenplay by Joe Stillman (Shrek 1 & 2) and Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to the Greek) is a clever, if schizophrenic, blend of olde-tyme medieval-speak and hip, pop culture riffs (The Empire Strikes Back, Titanic, and the rock band Kiss feature prominently). Director Rob Letterman (Monsters vs. Aliens, A Shark Tale) makes a successful first foray into live action; it may not be a home run, but it’s a solid double up the first base line.

A warning to those of you who believe a little of Jack Black goes a long way– Gulliver’s Travels works primarily because Black goes so completely over-the-top in his performance. Restraint has never been his strong suit, and had he reined it in at all, he may have come across as more buffoon than boffo.

As far as age-appropriateness goes, Gulliver skews more toward, say, eight and up. A giant-sized ‘call of nature’ dominates one scene and a gag around one character being called a ‘lame-ass’ is part of another. (Of course, any movie whose credits include a listing for ‘Butt-crack man’ should give you some indication.)

Yes it’s silly, but surprisingly Gulliver’s Travels works. It’s a mindless bit of super-sized frivolity and a better-than-average way to close out 2010.

3/5 stars