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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Will Ferrell, Anna Friel, and Danny McBride meet up with monkey-boy Chaka in Land of the Lost
When I was a kid, "Land of the Lost" seemed like a really cool TV show. Watching returns of it now - as I did about two weeks ago - I realize just how cheap and cheesy it all was. The special effects were unconvincing, and the prehistoric creatures were obviously guys in rubber suits. The great irony of the new big-screen Land of the Lost adaptation is that the filmmakers have spent a reported $100 million to make a movie that looks like it cost $1.95. And you know what? In a weird kind of way, I actually appreciate that ethic.

Will Ferrell plays Dr. Rick Marshall, a disreputable scientist working on some kind of cockamamie theory about time warps. He becomes a laughing stock after an on-air confrontation with Matt Lauer on the "Today" show. However, a young British scientist named Holly (Anna Friel) believes there is some merit to his theory. She tracks Marshall down and convinces him to build the gizmo that would allow them to see if he's right. To test it, they go out into the middle of nowhere, where fireworks salesman/tour guide Will (Danny McBride) operates a "historic" ride through a stream of industrial runoff.

Long story short, Marshall's invention works, throwing him, Holly, and Will into another dimension. In this parallel world - which mashes up eras throughout time - they discover dinosaurs, a monkey boy named Cha-Ka, and villainous lizard creatures called Slestaks who may have plans to enter our world and take it over. Marshall and his crew have to find their computer/transporter/gizmo/time warp thingy (which got lost in transition) before they can safely return home.

I'm not sure how many people are going to "get" the sensibility of Land of the Lost. Many movies based on old TV shows try to capture the spirit of what they are remaking. This one doesn't worry about the spirit (it's full of crude humor that never would have floated on a kids' program). Instead, it tries to capture the inherent stupidness of the show. That's right - this movie is intentionally dumb. The sets are obviously fake. The special effects (aside from the dinosaurs) are cheap looking. The plot is half-assed at best. In some respects, Land of the Lost is the ultimate "meta" experience; it assumes that the show has maintained a substantial cult following not because it is good, but because it is amusingly bad. And in order to "do" the show right, the film has to be "bad" as well. Not everyone will find that approach funny, but I did. A certain amount of chutzpah has to be there for anyone to even consider making a movie in this manner.

Interspersed with the cheesiness is a boatload of typically absurd Will Ferrell humor. Marshall and Will don't just study the prehistoric Cha-Ka, they also get high with him. There are jokes about people who obsessively love "A Chorus Line," and the fetishes of Cro-Magnons, and how one might get pooped out of a dinosaur. Marshall's encounters with Matt Lauer - which bookend the movie - are the funniest parts of all. Will Ferrell and Danny McBride rarely, if ever, fail to make me laugh. They are incredibly skilled at tossing off crazy one-liners and doing bizarre bits of physical comedy. Putting them, with their knowing senses of humor, in the middle of a franchise that thrives on its own cluelessness is actually sort of inspired, provided you have a taste for the very, very odd. Which I do.

Director Brad Silberling (A Series of Unfortunate Events) even goes so far as to shoot the film in a bizarre manner that emphasizes the artifice. Land of the Lost is certainly not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination (it drags at times), and a fair number of people are going to mistake its intentional badness as unintentional. However, if you appreciate silly, goofy, self-aware comedy that revels in its own warped self, this movie is demented fun.

( out of four)

Land of the Lost is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, and for language including a drug reference. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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