Will Ferrell’s shtick needs new angle

Posted June 11, 2009, at 8:13 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:57 a.m.

In theaters

LAND OF THE LOST, directed by Brad Siberling, written by Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas, 93 minutes, rated PG-13.

The rotten, unwatchable new Will Ferrell movie, “Land of the Lost,” is based on the old Saturday morning television show some of us grew up on in the 1970s, but which barely is recognizable here.

This film is so bad, it stabs at your eyes. And then it stabs at them again. Rinse and repeat. Bring some sutures.

While it’s true that the original, low-budget show was no cultural high point, it’s easy to retain an affinity for it, especially since it was appealingly cheesy in its cheapness, but also because it did find pockets in which to be imaginative and entertaining. It worked with what it had, which wasn’t much, but at least it made the effort.

This new bastardization, which cost over $100 million to produce but which made only $19 million at the weekend box office, does not — it’s a bust across the board. Ironically, that proves rather fitting, especially since this crude, boring, horrendous little peep show from Sugarville has a thing for the female bust, with one of the ongoing jokes being that a character’s breast is repeatedly groped by any number of men and creatures throughout. So, you know, feel free to bring the whole family.

Though the woman in question presumably is an intelligent scientist with a mind of her own, she somehow tolerates this behavior, which leads one to question why. The answer is simple. Director Brad Siberling told her to tolerate it.

About the movie — saying it’s slop is sort of like saying that entering a dank subway restroom at the height of the lunch rush hour is like wandering into a French perfumery. This baby stinks from start to finish, with Ferrell cast as Dr. Rick Marshall, an arrogant, buffoonish scientist who knows he’s close to finding a way to travel through time where past, present and future will merge.

With the help of fellow scientist Holly (Anna Friel) —it’s she who’s groped throughout — they achieve Ferrell’s dream and soon are off with some sidekick boob named Will (Danny McBride) to the land of the lost. There, dinosaurs roam, beastly Sleestaks abound and they befriend the caveman Chaka (Jorma Tacone) while chaos brims around them thanks to the evil Sleestak Enik (John Boylan).

Let’s be clear about the chaos unspooling here — none of it is gripping. Zip. This likely is because too much of the movie is concerned with being a Will Ferrell movie first, a gross-out comedy second and a film version of the television series third. As such, what we get is more of the same from Ferrell, whose worn-out shtick has become so repetitive he probably should find a new angle soon if he’s to continue to attract an audience.

That said, here’s the good news. By the end of the movie, it’s at last revealed why dinosaurs became extinct. Forget about such myths as disease, climate change or a giant asteroid striking the earth. Apparently, they stumbled upon Rick’s time warping device, saw into the future, caught whiff of this stiff and died from embarrassment.

Grade: BOMB

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

“GRAN TORINO,” directed by Clint Eastwood, written by Nick Schenk, 114 minutes, rated R.

Would somebody please hire Clint Eastwood to stare down the recession, narrow his eyes and lift a loaded rifle at it?

He can shoot if he wants, but if his performance in “Gran Torino” is any indication, he won’t need to. As this film and a good deal of the actor’s career proves, he could scare the hell out of the shrinking economy with a mere sneer.

Decked out in full Dirty Harry mode, Eastwood directs himself as Walt Kowalski, a proud American and die-hard racist who lives in a part of Detroit that increasingly is turning into a community of Asians.

Walt is having none of that. He is so aggressive about his dislike of the Asian community he’s not above walking over to his neighbor’s lawn and spitting on it while one of the home’s inhabitants, an elderly Asian woman, looks on in disgust.

Not that she’s having any of him. Since a good deal of the movie is charged with an unexpected sense of humor, the woman spits back, Walt hurls a few racial slurs at her and on he goes about his day, which usually involves drinking beer on his porch in the wake of his wife’s recent death.

From his perch on his porch, Walt observes the world around him with contempt. Since nobody can live up to his standards, his sour face and ugly disposition are a mainstay (often humorously so), with the lot of it turning into a full-boiled rage when one of his neighbor’s kids, a sensitive teen-ager named Thao (Bee Vang), first tries to steal his vintage Gran Torino, and then when Thao is pulled out of his home by the gang of Asians who ordered him to steal the car. Their idea is to turn Thao into a “man” by forcing him to join their gang. Since their struggle crosses the line onto Walt’s lawn, out he comes with rifle in hand.

What springs from this is predictable, sure, but it’s no less satisfying. The Asian community Walt long has vilified starts to lift him up as a hero of the neighborhood for helping Thao. Walt doesn’t want any of it — he can’t stand these people, or any other race, for that matter. But when Thao’s sister, Sue (Ahney Her, excellent), works her no-nonsense magic on him, lives start to change as gang threats start to build.

Eastwood has gone on record to say that this will be his last acting role, and if it is, what a way to go out. He’s excellent here, boiling into one character all of the elements we’ve come to love about the actor during his storied career.

But here’s the catch: “Gran Torino” turned out to be Eastwood’s largest opening ever for a movie in which he was the lead. So, while that sounds like it has all the makings for a swell swan song, maybe it’s also enough to keep Eastwood right where he needs to be for awhile longer — on the screen.

Grade: A-

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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