land of the lost

Land of the Lost, despite a bankable star and some heavy-duty marketing, failed to make any money. It also wasn’t very good. Does this mean we’re done finally done with these comedic adaptations of classic TV shows?

Probably not, but the spectacular failure of the Will Ferrell’s latest star vehicle (which compares unfavorably to last year’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, both in substance and tone) should be a wake up call to someone. It’s easy enough to recycle story ideas, but isn’t it all for naught if you can’t even turn the easy profit?

Brad Silberling (City of Angels, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) is, as you can tell from those credits, an unusual choice to direct a comedy, even one as effects laden as this one. And he gets very little out of comedic stalwarts Will Ferrell and Danny McBride in Land of the Lost. The film is not devoid of laughs, of course, as Ferrell can tease out a joke with pure charisma. What Silberling doesn’t do is ask for anything extra out of his actors, and he doesn’t receive anything either; he’s focused too heavily on a not-so-great story, which is probably not an audience’s chief interest.

Especially since Land of the Lost deviates so strongly from Sid and Marty Krofft’s original series. Rick Marshall (Ferrell) is a paleontologist disgraced after a Today Show interview brands him a crackpot; in the series, Marshall is a forest ranger. Will (McBride) and Holly (Anna Friel), Marshall’s children in the original, are a deadbeat gift shop owner and a sycophantic graduate student, respectively. Friel develops into Ferrell’s unlikely love interest.

When Ferrell’s time travel device (the tachyon amplifier, nerds) thrusts the triad into a mystical world filled with strange creatures and cultural residue from the contemporary age, the fun (whatever fun there is) is on. That’s when you start to wonder where the money (reportedly $100 million) went. The sets look cheap, and the creatures are fairly unsophisticated. The reptilian sleestaks even look like the sleestaks from the series. That’s a lot of money tossed away on rubber suits.

There’s always a question in these adaptations with where to draw the line between updating the original and paying homage to it. Land of the Lost looks to have it both ways, trying to look like the original, only bigger. There’s enough bloat on this film to detract from what could have been a half-decent comedy.

Silberling and crew lost focus, lost their humor, and, it appears, lost a lot of money.

Film: Land of the Lost
Director: Brad Silberling
Stars: Will Ferrell, Anna Friel, Danny McBride, Jorma Taccone, Matt Lauer

Viewing situation: Weekday matinee, small crowd; digital projection
My grade (out of 10): 4
Rotten Tomatoes average: 28%

Next up: Imagine That

Summer Movie Suicide Mission ’09: Seeing them all, all summer long. Follow Summer Movie Suicide Mission on Twitter: @SMSM09.

In which one man attempts to view every summer blockbuster for the entire season, regardless of taste, genre, or cover bands that only play ’80s Joel, sir.

It’s certainly good to see Will Ferrell finally get away from his string of sports comedies, a cycle which began with the goofy (and wickedly funny) Nascar satire Talladega Nights, but had pretty much worn thin by the time of last year’s Semi-Pro. In Step Brothers, Ferrell re-teams with frequent on-screen collaborator John C. Reilly, a veteran character actor who, thanks mainly to Ferrell and producer Judd Apatow, has begun to get his due as a comedic star in his own right. Both actors have an uncanny ability to play developmentally stunted manchildren, and in that sense, Step Brothers is an inspired premise, with Reilly and Ferrell playing 40-somethings who can’t seem to leave the comfort and security of their parents’ houses. When their single parents meet and move in together, the pair must learn to finally get a life.

As this summer’s comedic star vehicles go, Step Brothers far outshines the likes of The Love Guru, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, and Meet Dave. But still, in spite of a lot of good laughs, it left me a little cold. It’s different from the most recent crop of Ferrell films, but on a number of fundamental levels, it’s much the same. It leaves behind a common formula, opting to focus equally on its two stars, rather than presenting Ferrell as some sort of troupe leader. But the tone remains the same. For Reilly, whose early career was marked by incredible versatility, may now be pigeonholing himself as a Ferrell sidekick (or a Ferrell surrogate). Ferrell himself has shown some range (though usually in bad films, like Stranger Than Fiction, Melinda and Melinda, and The Producers), but as he ages, he’ll need to consider what tack he wants to take with his personal projects.

Don’t get me wrong here; I’m a huge fan of a well-made stupid comedy, and Ferrell has long been one of my favorite performers. I just fear for his future a little. This summer, I’ve lamented the fates of the likes of Mike Myers and, especially, Eddie Murphy. It’s not hard to imagine, ten years from now, looking at Will Ferrell’s career arc and seeing something similar.

But that’s all a future concern. For now, both Ferrell and Reilly have enough laughs still in the tank to make Step Brothers work. The get a little help from the always awesome Richard Jenkins (as Reilly’s dad) and a well delivered straight woman performance from Mary Steenburgen (as Ferrell’s mom). Adam Scott (a familiar bit player from other Apatow projects) has some of the film’s best gags as Ferrell’s successful and obnoxious younger brother.

Step Brothers is also aided by the direction of Adam McKay, a veteran of several Will Ferrell projects, who knows how to play to his star’s sensibility. The overall look of the film is understated, but the filmmaker’s intention shines through; despite few bells and whistles, it’s clear McKay has a handle on his story. You can draw a pretty strong line between the way McKay approaches directing a film and the way his boss Apatow does. Apatow himself doesn’t so much direct, as he just shoots. It’s refreshing to see someone like McKay, who’s able to handle the genre.

Next up for Step Brothers’ major players? Ferrell is starring in a film adaptation of Land of the Lost, a pretty dubious proposition given the history of beloved TV shows going to the big screen years after the fact (see Get Smart). Reilly is slated to appear as a vampire in Cirque du Freak, helmed by American Pie director Paul Weitz, which, if Weitz’s recent history is any indication (American Dreamz, In Good Company) probably isn’t terribly promising. McKay, sadly, has nothing in the pipeline, undoubtedly awaiting the call for Ferrell’s next vanity project.

For now, those projects still work. Ferrell just needs to start considering his options.

Programming Note: The X-Files: I Want to Believe

The new (about eight years too late) X-Files film (I Want to Believe) was released the same weekend as Step Brothers. But it didn’t stay in release for long. I missed it completely. Since I hadn’t seen the first X-Files film, I could claim I Want to Believe under my “unseen sequel exemption,” but I won’t. I had intended to see it, but it turned out to be even more of a catastrophic failure than I thought it would be. I’m awaiting its inevitable release at Athens’ $1 theater, where it will join the likes of College Road Trip, which has been running there for months. Look for a Summer Movie Suicide Mission addendum some time in September.

Film: Step Brothers
Director: Adam McKay
Stars: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, Adam Scott

Viewing Situation: Weekday evening, half crowd; standard projection
Rotten Tomatoes Average: 51%
My Grade (Out of 10): 6

Next Up: Pineapple Express