From School of Rock to Tropic Thunder, I enjoy Jack Black, and I so wanted to enjoy his updated star turn of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, which was high satire when written almost 300 years ago. But here, the story of a man tossed upon an island populated by tiny people never threatens to be satiric, and stalls instead in the just plain silly. And even with some spirited performances and CG magic, this latest film adaptation of Swift’s novel, due April 19 on Blu-ray and DVD, has only sporadic amusements to recommend it.
The implausibilities begin far sooner than Black winding up on a Bermuda Triangle island like the blubbery beached whale he evokes. Before that, he somehow fakes his way into getting a major travel writing assignment for a major New York newspaper. He also somehow catches the eye of an overly accommodating travel editor (Amanda Peet) who’s lovely yet somehow available romantically for Black’s mail-room slob.
When Black does reach Liliput, he morphs from hulking monster to gregarious saviour, while teaching the stuffy yet chipper types, including royalty, how to shed their polite reserve and get down with KISS and Star Wars. Uproars, battles and table-turning ensue, but none of it sings or zings with the witticisms which Swift applied to his fantasy. Then again, Swift never had Black’s style of fat-boy pratfalls and slapstick at his disposal.
The story is feel-good but too good to be true, even if we allowed for the existence of absurdly tiny — and large — kingdoms in this era of satellite imagery capable of spotting the whiskers on a cat’s snout. But then, this is a fantasy, so to some extent, if you’re a big enough (ahem) Black fan to explore, just allow for the nonsense and bask in the colorful execution.
You see? Even big bombs like this can offer small pleasures.