Listen to Dana Stevens's Spoiler Special about Land of the Lost using the player below:
If June is the month of weddings, it's also the month of bachelor parties. The entertainment of choice at such events tends to be something more … interactive than going to the movies, but any grooms out there looking for a cheap bachelor-party package have two dumb summer guy movies to choose from this weekend: The Hangover (Warner Bros.) and Land of The Lost (Universal Studios). The DSG genre is not to be scoffed at—it's given us such classic comedies as Caddyshack and Animal House and, more recently, Wedding Crashers and The 40-Year-Old Virgin—and has done much to codify the behavior of drunk heterosexual men everywhere. If it weren't for DSG movies, what would dudes quote to one another in bars?
Neither The Hangover nor Land of the Lost provides any jokes quotable enough to survive the summer of 2009, but in their amiable, sophomoric, how-low-can-you-go way, they're both pretty fun. The Hangover tells the story of a Vegas bachelor party and its aftermath. Four friends, including the groom-to-be, Doug (Justine Bartha); the bride's weirdo brother, Alan (Zach Galifianakis); jaded schoolteacher Phil (Bradley Cooper); and uptight dentist Stu (Ed Helms), drive from Los Angeles to Vegas, drink some Jägermeister on the casino roof, and proceed to enjoy themselves so thoroughly that the next morning they can remember nothing at all. Their hotel suite is trashed, with sex dolls bobbing in the hot tub, a live tiger in the bathroom, and a cooing infant in the closet. The groom, as well as Stu's upper right incisor, has gone inexplicably AWOL. So the remaining members of the party embark on a 24-hour mission to reconstruct what happened, return baby and tiger to their rightful homes, and locate Doug in time for his wedding the next day.
The Hangover was directed by Todd Philips, who gave the similarly themed Old School a melancholic sweetness. But this movie's cast lacks the comic firepower of Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughan (though Ed Helms, a former Daily Show correspondent, acquits himself nicely as the henpecked Stu, and Galifianakis takes the needy, social-skills-deprived Alan to some surprisingly creepy places). The setups are funnier than the follow-through: The image of a tiger prowling a hotel bathroom, for example, promises a level of Surrealist absurdism that the script never manages to sustain. As the boys piece together their night with help from an obliging stripper (Heather Graham) and a gay Asian gangster (Ken Jeong), the movie loses momentum rather than picking it up. This kind of "one crazy night" tale relies on drum-tight structure to work. Without it, The Hangover sputters to a sentimental halt. Still, it's worth staying for the closing credits, in which an outrageous photo montage finally reveals what transpired during the boys' collective blackout.
I have the feeling I'm going to be one of the few critics who enjoyed Land of the Lost. Lord knows I occupy the movie's demographic sweet spot—I was 8 years old when the deeply strange live-action Saturday-morning series began airing in 1974, and my siblings and I used to watch it, Pop-Tarts in hand, on a wood-grain Zenith console TV. These details constitute the kind of pop-culture detritus that Brad Silberling's likable lug of a comedy glories in. The "land of the lost" is a kind of cosmic depot where random bits of junk—an ice-cream truck, a motel pool—fall through a time-space portal to be, in essence, played with by the movie's heroes. And that's what the movie is, too: a brightly colored, proudly pointless toy. If your Will Ferrell laugh threshold is as low as mine—hell, I still watch the "More cowbell!" skit—you could do worse.
Ferrell plays Dr. Rick Marshall, a "quantum paleontologist" obsessed with time travel. He's an over-the-hill crackpot, scoffed at by all, except for a wide-eyed British grad student, Holly (Anna Friel), who thinks he's a misunderstood genius. Together Rick and Holly go to explore a potential rip in the time-space continuum, which just happens to be inside a funhouse ride manned by redneck scam artist Will (Danny McBride, keeping up his yearlong streak of scene-stealing sidekick roles). Soon the three of them are tumbling down a waterfall into the aforementioned land, where they encounter a horny monkey-man (Jorma Taccone), an enraged T-Rex, and tribe of slow-moving lizard people called the Sleestak. (In the low-tech spirit of the original series, these menacing reptiles are still played by real, nondigitized actors in rubber suits. In a concession to the magic of modern special effects, the zippers up the back are no longer visible.)
LotL purists will note that a disturbing liberty has been taken with the source material: In the old show, Will and Holly were the names of Dr. Marshall's children, which means that his daughter (the gingham shirt! the blond braids!) has now been converted into a potential love interest. It's as if, in a Brady Bunch remake, Mr. Brady were suddenly making out with Marcia. If you can get past the fundamental wrongness of that image, Land of the Lost is an enjoyable regression to Saturday mornings gone by, as junky and sweet as a strawberry Pop-Tart.
Slate V: The critics on The Hangover and other new movies