Directed by: Rob Letterman (Monsters vs Aliens)
Starring: Jack Black, Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly
Warning: Whether you find this movie completely obnoxious and unwatchable or a middling work of mediocrity is dependent upon the level of your Jack Black tolerance. I usually find him harmless. His shtick of mistaking loud for funny isn’t nearly as bad when you take into account his innate likeability and the fact that Will Ferrell is still running around on the loose. I’ve liked Jack Black in the past (Richard Linklater’s The School of Rock (2003) and Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind (2008) come to mind), and have also found him negligible in movies I happen to like (Tropic Thunder (2008)).
However, if you find Jack Black to be obnoxious, well, then this is also how you will find the movie. Because, boy, do you get a lot of Jack Black. It’s a full-on assault at times: an all-singing, all-dancing Jack Black extravaganza. Even if you’re blessed like I am and can generally ignore him even while he is on-screen, you’re still going to be watching a pretty stupid movie, but one that won’t pain you. If you can’t stand the man, beware.
The film is, of course, a modernization of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. The puckish satire was originally published in 1726, and the movie is exactly what you would expect from Jack Black recreating this nearly 300-year-old piece of fiction. We follow Black’s character of Lemuel Gulliver, who in this day and age is an insecure loser working in a magazine mailroom. After plagiarizing Frommer’s in an attempt to impress his crush, travel editor Darcy (Amanda Peet), Gulliver finds himself on assignment in the Bermuda Triangle, where he’s sucked into a whirlpool. Following this unfortunate occurrence, he finds himself shipwrecked in the land of the Lilliputians, a country of miniature people, and that’s where the film completely diverges from the novel—adhering more to the 1939 Max Fleischer feature cartoon, which also limited itself to Lilliput.
All of the satire from the Jonathan Swift classic is, of course, thrown away. In exchange, we get a barrage of pop-culture references—like a truly awful musical number built around Edwin Starr’s “War.” The plot becomes focused on the romance between the Lilliputian princess (Emily Blunt) and a lowly commoner (Jason Segel). All of it’s stupid—though I must admit I did laugh at a couple things that immediately flitted from my mind. Still, if you ignore a giant Jack Black giving a very tiny Billy Connolly a golden shower, none of it’s too egregious. Plus, none of the actors truly embarrass themselves. Of course, Emily Blunt is in plenty of good movies where she doesn’t embarrass herself, so I’m not really sure this is an endorsement. Yes, Gulliver’s Travels is a dumb movie, but there are a ton of dumb movies out there. This one isn’t even dumb enough to be noteworthy. Rated PG for brief rude humor, mild language and action.