Essentially, Jack Black is just a big kid and in this latest adaptation of Gulliver's Travels, he's even bigger. It's hardly a faithful retelling of the Jonathan Swift classic, but there's also a lack of invention, which means the success of the film rests almost entirely on his shoulders. Just as well he's a giant then, not only physically (that is to say, digitally...), but in terms of charisma. His Gulliver is the aimless but loveable mailroom guy at a New York newspaper who realises he's not going anywhere, until he lands a plum writing assignment. As always, his enthusiasm is infectious.
It isn't his sense of ambition that gets Gulliver the job of penning a travelogue, as much as his desire to get close to section editor Darcy (Amanda Peet). It's an ill-conceived plan that sees him commit plagiarism, get despatched to Bermuda and take to the open sea in a small boat. One perfect storm later and he's waking up on a distant shore, pinned to the beach by a thousand tiny ropes and wooden pegs. Even more alarming, he's surrounded by teeny tiny people in 18th century dress. His schlubbiness makes him stand out all the more, especially as he breaks free to reveal a giant builder's bum, then proceeds to fall back on an unfortunate little bystander...
This kind of schoolboy humour will surely appeal to adults as well as kids, but for the most part, the film is very much aimed at a younger audience. There is a sweet innocence in the way even the bad guys behave - namely, General Edward played by The IT Crowd's Chris O'Dowd. Gulliver earns everyone's trust except his. The General sees the big man as a threat, not only to the Kingdom of Liliput, but to his role as a leader of men (albeit very little ones) and in order to seal the deal, intends to marry Princess Mary (a coy Emily Blunt). Yes, the General is quite villainous, yet his awkward formality is endearing. Of course, Mary doesn't share the sentiment.
Aside from Black, O'Dowd has the best role, able to make use of his innate gawkiness. In contrast, Jason Segel (star of Forgetting Sarah Marshall) is a drip as Mary's real match, the humble peasant Horatio. He also becomes a hapless sidekick to Gulliver, getting a few extra laughs out of some silly dancing taught to him by the mega moron in order to woo the royal babe. There are big names in British comedy too, including Billy Connolly and Catherine Tate as the King and Queen of Liliput, and James Corden as the footman, but they are wasted in these 'small' supporting roles.
Their chief purpose is to look down on Gulliver (in upward trajectory) when he is revealed as a liar for using Hollywood films to tell the story of his life. Gulliver tries to make amends by defending Liliput against a tiny invading army (bullets lodging in giant rolls of fat) before launching into one of the most audacious scenes of the film, battling a giant robot controlled by the General. However, the funniest bit sees him held hostage in a doll's house after getting exiled to the land of the very, very big people. By now Darcy is also on his trail, which leads to a bumpy ending as director Rob Letterman (Monsters Vs. Aliens) tries to match action with romance. It's rarely plain sailing though, and like Black, the story sags in the middle. Still, he's an irresistible force of nature.
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