Sunday, June 21, 2009

Funny Fantasties

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) is undeniably an entertaining film, but it is hard for me to call it a comedy. The movie, pretty much a long stream of wild and far-out special effects occasionally interrupted by a wisecrack, is more fun than funny. I was won over by the special effects as soon as I saw a T-Rex skeleton hopping around and wagging its tail like a puppy.

Films like this can seem bloated and chaotic but this film moves along briskly and smoothly. The simple idea of a museum coming to life provides the filmmakers with a reliable premise. Other artifacts that come to life include a purplish octopus, Rodin's Thinker, Darth Vader, and the Lincoln Memorial. This time, it isn't only museum artifacts and exhibits that come to life. Even items in the gift shop come to life. A highlight of the film is a scene featuring a silly gaggle of Einstein bobble heads. The most eye-catching scene features Ben Stiller and Amy Adams jumping into Alfred Eisenstaedt's "The Kiss" photo. Suddenly, the actors are in a black & white recreation of World War II-era Times Square.

I could have done without the politically correct lectures about Earhart's importance to the women's movement. If the filmmakers truly had respect for Earhart, they wouldn't have turned her into what critic Lael Loewenstein described as "a flame-haired screwball-comedy heroine." The idea of casting Amy Adams as Earhart is somewhat like casting Megan Fox as Marjorie Main. Still, it isn't only about casting. Earhart falling head over heels for Stiller, who she has just met, makes the female aviator seem, well, flighty. On the matter of Adams, let us get to the elephant in the room. The actress' skin-tight flight pants borders on the obscene. It seemed like, instead of honoring Earhart, Adams is providing her own personal homage to the gluteus maximus. She is showing off so much crack that visitors to the Constitution Gardens could easily mistake her for The Liberty Bell.

Of course, it's not enough to raise up women if, at the same time, you don't take the opportunity to diminish men. This is the reason that the Wright Brothers are portrayed as dimwitted sexists who freak out seeing a woman flying a plane. If that wasn't enough, the Tuskegee Airmen show up just long enough to remind everyone that they broke through the color barrier as the first black American army pilots. I came to this movie for jokes, but instead I got white man's guilt.

You should not go to this film expecting a storyline or character development. The plot has to do with Stiller having to find his moxie. Oh, yes, the old moxie crisis. It's like Billy Crystal having to "find his smile again" in City Slickers. As part of finding his moxie, he also has to learn to turn off his cell phone and take time to enjoy life. Please, you arty Hollywood types, I do not go to a summer movie to have you blow my mind with your heavy themes.

Comedian Will Ferrell headlines another new special effects-driven profundity, Land of the Lost. Critic Richard Corliss believes that the screen persona perfected by Ferrell is, basically, an overage child who never had a proper role model and thinks that, to act like a man, he should rely on the way he has seen Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford act in movies. Corliss wrote, "Endless setbacks and critiques have not dented Ferrell man's lunatic belief in himself. He strides manfully forward, his eye on the horizon — thus never noticing the open manhole he's about to step into." He describes Ferrell's latest character, Dr. Rick Marshall, as possessing "unwarranted self-assurance" and a "blindness to his crippling dooficity."

I usually find Ferrell funny, but his overage child act didn't work for me this time. Land of the Lost was, when all is said and done, shockingly bad. You have a problem when Matt Lauer is the funniest person in your movie. At one point, I had to remind myself that these pointless and incoherent images before my eyes were part of a movie and not horrible visions I was having because the hot dog I just ate had given me Mad Cow disease.

The action gets started when Ferrell, Danny McBride and Anna Friel set out in a row boat to investigate some scientic phenomena. Suddenly, the group gets sucked into a rift in time and space and end up in a time-jumbled dimension. The dimension-hoppers soon encounter a caveboy, Cha-Ka (Jorma Taccone). They get the idea that Cha-Ka will be a reliable guide even though he only shows interest in grabbing Friel's boobs.

The one funny segment in the film features Ferrell, McBride and Taccone arriving at a motel half buried in the middle of a Dalíesque desert and taking a dip in the motel's pool while Rare Earth's "I Just Want to Celebrate" plays on the soundtrack. Soon, they discover a red, bulbous plant, the potent juice which has a narcotic effect. The plot continues with Friel investigating readings on Dr. Marshall's Tachyon device while the fellas take time off to chill. Jimi Hendrix's ominous "All Along the Watchtower" plays as McBride, who has become paranoid from guzzling the plant juice, questions Cha-Ka to make sure that he isn't a narc. The trio are in such a stupor that all they can do is lay around and giggle at one another. Ferrell is suddenly wearing a bandanna around his head. In the background, a float in the shape of a yellow duck glides across the water. The scene is silly and surreal. The boys can't even get up when they see a giant lobster skittering across the sand to attack them. Fortunately, the crab falls into a geyser and gets cooked. The men feast on the crab as night falls. The next morning, the sun rises to the melodious strains of Seals & Crofts "Summer Breeze." The camera pans over to Ferrell, McBride and Taccone, who are huddled together sleeping.

This extended music video montage is made even stranger by the fact that it occurs late in the film, at the time that the film is building to a climax. You know the plot is meaningless when the film gets to this point and the hero's only desire is to get high, eat crab meat, and spoon with his buddies. Where is Friel? Will they find their way back home? Ferrell doesn't care and I see no reason why I should care either. The rift in time and space that could get them home could be Amy Adams' butt crack and it would not have mattered to me at this point.

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