Jack Black vehicle unfunny and lacking in cohesion
In the ten years since his breakout performance as John Cusack’s slacker workmate in High Fidelity, Jack Black has become a big name movie star, but his CV is surprisingly short of hits. Only Richard Linklater’s family comedy School of Rock has managed to showcase Black’s wisecracking, music-loving personality in a way that both audiences and critics have warmed to. Gulliver’s Travels is an attempt by Black, who co-produced the film, to create a similarly successful vehicle for his talents, but it is a weak, forgettable comedy, bearing little resemblance to Swift’s classic satire. Black seems uninspired by his own movie, going through the motions, and while the film scrapes by as undemanding family entertainment, there is not much to recommend about it.
Black plays Gulliver, a mail clerk at the Washington Post who accepts a travel writing assignment from the editor he has a crush on (Amanda Peet), and ends up shipwrecked in Lilliput, land of tiny people. After being captured by General Edward Edwardian (Chris O’Dowd) and the Lilliputian army, Gulliver earns the favour of the King and Queen (Billy Connolly and Catherine Tate) by saving Princess Mary (Emily Blunt) from a kidnap attempt. He becomes Lilliput’s official protector, but Edwardian sets out to discover the truth about Gulliver and bring him down.
The script’s endless pop culture references suggest that the film was conceived as a satire on celebrity, but the whole thing is played with such winking self-awareness by all involved that subtlety doesn’t get a look in. Only Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) gives a straight performance as the humble everyman who loves the princess, and he seems to be the only comedian involved who really understood what this film needed to make it funny. Someone who clearly doesn’t understand comedy is the film’s director Rob Letterman, who brings no sense of comic unity to any part of the film: the overall impression is that Letterman left each actor to play their part however they felt best, while he paid more attention to the complex visual effects required to put it all together.