Gulliver’s Travels (PG, 87 mins)
Director: Rob Letterman
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
It clearly takes place in a world where Swift’s novel doesn’t exist, since Black’s character is called Lemuel Gulliver and no one else in the movie seems to think this is worth commenting on. He’s a schlubby nerd working in a newspaper mail room, and with a longstanding crush on the travel editor (Amanda Peet).
Gulliver somehow manages to bluff his way into getting a writing assignment from her, which involves him heading to the Bermuda Triangle where his boat is consumed by a vortex and he wakes up in the land of Lilliput where the tiny people there mistake him for a giant beast and imprison him.
This is where we’re given the first indication that all is not well with a script that rather throws us into situations, asking us to accept a lot of things without much introduction or explanation. Any sort of close examination will reveal that the writing is feeble, with great chunks of story appearing to be missing.
And yet it keeps on delivering uncomplicated fun and so, powering on, Gulliver meets Horatio (Jason Segel), a commoner in love with the princess (Emily Blunt), whom Gulliver subsequently saves and becomes a hero.
There’s also a subplot involving the jealous and deceitful Lilliputian general Edward Edwardian (Chris O’Dowd) that comes to the fore since the filmmakers don’t really seem to know what to do with Gulliver other than trot out references.
And yet this is where the movie delivers its funniest and most imaginative material, with Black’s semi-improvised shtick often hard to resist as he pretends that all the biggest movie plots of the last 30 years are episodes from his life.
Elsewhere it’s largely juvenile set pieces that offer a lot of bum and pee related stuff. And, as is invariably the case these days, the 3D is largely pointless though it does sometimes cover up the shoddiness of the special effects.
But it’s saved from disaster by the appeal of the cast, especially Black and Segel. Chuck in the likes of Billy Connolly and Catherine Tate as the king and queen of Lilliput and it gets by on its sheer silliness and goofy charm.
And unlike recent fantasy epics like Narnia or TRON, Gulliver’s Travels is never boring, it knows what story it wants to tell – even if it doesn’t always tell it too well – and for all its stupidity, it offers consistently undemanding entertainment.