Land of the Lost (PG-13) *½


Will Ferrell gets lost among tired gags.

Land of the Lost
Will Ferrell is shown during a scene in Universal Pictures comedy, "Land of the Lost."

By Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald

Remember the summer of Jurassic Park and how we all lined up in awe to cower before the fearsomely realistic dinosaurs Steven Spielberg had conjured? Watching Land of the Lost, which takes some equally lifelike T. rexes and turns them into gags for Will Ferrell to play with, is akin to seeing Darth Vader pop up for a cameo in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Pop culture eventually turns everything into a low-brow joke. But by the time big-budget Hollywood has caught on, that joke is usually tired and wheezy.

One of the problems with Land of the Lost, a comedic reimagining of the 1970s children's TV series by Sid and Marty Krofft, is that the whole thing feels at least three summers too stale. Seeing Ferrell make googly faces as he runs away from computer-generated dinosaurs isn't terribly funny, and yet the movie returns to the gag time and time again.

Land of the Lost, written by Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas, fares better when it gives us the unexpected, such as the scene in which Ferrell is bitten by a prehistoric mosquito the size of a border collie. The sequence builds and builds -- Ferrell is unaware of the insect feeding at his neck -- and then pays off beautifully, turning the audience's laughter into groans of delighted, grossed-out revulsion.

That moment is one of the few in Land of the Lost during which you're not yearning to bolt for the exit. The blame cannot be leveled at Ferrell. Playing a scientist who opens a doorway into a land where past, present and future co-exist, he does exactly what everyone expects: Makes a complete ass of himself (most memorably during a scene in which he douses himself with dino urine), improvises madly (''Captain Kirk's nipples!'') and gives the film an instant layer of humor simply by showing up.

But too much of Land of the Lost requires Ferrell to play things as close to straight as he can. We're supposed to buy the budding romance between him and a British scientist (Anna Friel) as if it were the real thing, and we're not supposed to laugh when Ferrell dons the action-hero mantle and rescues his beloved from certain death at the hands of evil creatures known as Sleestaks.

Whenever director Brad Silberling (Casper, City of Angels) gives Ferrell and co-star Danny McBride (Pineapple Express) room to improvise (such as when they cover Cher's Believe while touching a shard of glass that makes their voices vibrate), the actors momentarily lift Land of the Lost from the realm of failed high-concept comedies and into stranger, braver territory.

The humor built into the script, such as a running gag about A Chorus Line,probably sounded a lot funnier on paper than it plays out onscreen. But watching Ferrell duke it out with Matt Lauer (as himself) or mutter a seemingly impromptu ''F-you!'' to a friendly, apelike caveman (Jorma Taccone) briefly revives the Anchorman/Talladega Nights vibe on which he has built his film career. Then the story takes over again, and Land of the Lost becomes an endurance test -- one that's too borderline bawdy for families and too dull and rote for anyone over 15. Who, exactly, is the intended audience for this drivel?

Cast: Will Ferrell, Danny McBride, Anna Friel, Jorma Taccone, John Boylan.

Director: Brad Silberling.

Screenwriters: Chris Henchy, Dennis McNicholas.

Producers: Jimmy Miller, Marty Krofft, Sid Krofft.

A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 109 minutes. Vulgar language, mock violence. Playing at: area theaters.

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