Gul­liver ’s Trav­els (PG)

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - LISTINGS - On gen­eral re­lease

HTHE movie mar­ket place is lit­tered with the des­ic­cated shells of lit­er­ary clas­sics plun­dered for their riches by shal­low pro­duc­ers look­ing for a fast buck. From Wil­liam Shake­speare to Emily Brontë, the road is a long one.

Who could ever have en­vis­aged Jonathan Swift’s 18th cen­tury mis­an­thropic satire on hu­man na­ture be­ing trans­formed into a brain­less ve­hi­cle for portly, one-note Amer­i­can comic ac­tor Jack Black? Thus satire be­comes clod­dish com­edy of the crass­est kind with an ill­starred lead­ing man grin­ning and gurn­ing his way through what re­mains of the story.

As the un­likely mon­ick­ered Le­muel Gul­liver, Black is the mail boy for a big mag­a­zine who has a crush on travel edi­tor Amanda Peet. His charm per­suades her to give him a chance: to write a piece on the Ber­muda Triangle.

Via a mys­te­ri­ous storm he ends up in Lil­liput where he tow­ers over the lo­cals, is put in prison but earns the king’s favour by pre­vent­ing a kidnap at­tempt on his daugh­ter (Emily Blunt). El­e­vated to the po­si­tion of of­fi­cial pro­tec­tor, he must stand fast against the Lil­liputians’ tra­di­tional en­e­mies, the Ble­fus­cu­d­i­ans.

This is a stinker of epic pro­por­tions – “satire” for the MTV gen­er­a­tion that is packed with pop cul­ture ref­er­ences. It’s also painfully un­funny.

Black has proven him­self to be ca­pa­ble of pass­able straight act­ing, prin­ci­pally in early roles (such as the hap­less dupe in The Jackal) or when di­rected by strong film­mak­ers like Peter Jack­son in King Kong.

Here he has been given free rein to un­leash his comedic Id. Sur­rounded by a gag­gle of other tal­ent – Billy Connolly, Cather­ine Tate, James Cor­den and Chris O’Dowd – Black doesn’t hold back and delivers an­other lazy and mind­numb­ing vari­a­tion on the slacker per­sona he has been trad­ing on since High Fidelity. And that was 10 years ago. The Id never ma­te­ri­alises, mainly be­cause he doesn’t pos­sess one.

Black is now 41 and rather too old for the fat slacker rou­tine. Thus all eyes turn to the Brits. Billy Connolly sleep­walks through his role as the king of Lil­liput. Blunt plays an­other in a string of roy­als. Tate and Cor­den barely reg­is­ter. Only Chris O’Dowd, as a mil­i­tary man with his eye on the princess, gives any­thing re­sem­bling a per­for­mance of merit.

Gul­liver’s Trav­els is a mon­u­men­tal mess that rapidly wears out its wel­come. Throw in a fight scene be­tween Gul­liver and a robot and this point­less retelling screams “Su­per­flu­ous!” for all to hear. Beat a Swift re­treat from this one. that al­lows Weir to put flesh on the bones of his hag­gard cast. There is an ac­coun­tant, an en­gi­neer, a chef, a priest and a tat­tooed mys­tery man. They are played by an en­sem­ble cast that in­cludes Jim Sturgess, Ed Har­ris, Colin Far­rell and Alexan­dru Po­to­cean.

These are or­di­nary men faced with an ex­tra­or­di­nary sit­u­a­tion of epic pro­por­tions: a forced march of thou­sands of miles to­wards an un­cer­tain goal. En-route there are com­ments on 1940s-era Soviet Com­mu­nism. On reach­ing the Mon­go­lian border, they are be greeted with a red star and a por­trait of Stalin. “So it’s here, too,” mut­ters Har­ris’s ex-pat Amer­i­can.

If it was the wish of Weir and co-screen­writer Keith Clarke to un­der­write the men, they suc­ceed. Only Valka, the street crim­i­nal played by Far­rell, emerges with any sense of iden­tity.

It is Far­rell who of­fers up the no­tion of can­ni­bal­ism, eye­ing a sickly mem­ber of the group with mad-eyed rel­ish. And it is Far­rell who de­cides to turn back at the Soviet border, pre­fer­ring the only life he has ever known to the un­cer­tainty of free­dom.

Weir al­most de­lib­er­ately shies away from any sense of drama or vi­o­lence. The group’s break­out is hinted at, not shown. The slaugh­ter of a trapped an­i­mal is de­liv­ered off cam­era. And the af­ter­math of mass murder at a Bud­dhist tem­ple is shown via charred tim­bers and blasted bones hid­den in the ground.

Thus our com­pan­ions strug­gle on. The fi­nale, when it comes, lacks emo­tion and punch – surely not what Raw­icz in­tended when he wrote his book. gi­ant fly­ing in­sects run­ning amok through a back­wa­ter Amer­i­can town, and throws in some sac­cha­rine fam­ily bond­ing for good mea­sure. Arthur (Fred­die High­more) is stay­ing with his grand­mother (Mia Far­row) and ea­gerly awaits the end of the moon’s tenth cy­cle and his re­turn to the Min­i­moy vil­lage.

Con­se­quently, he will be able to ven­ture back to his beloved princess Se­le­nia (voiced by Se­lena Gomez). How­ever, Arthur’s par­ents (Robert Stan­ton, Penny Bal­four) throw a span­ner in the works by cut­ting short their stay. Poised to leave, Arthur is shocked when a spi­der de­posits a grain of rice in his hand en­graved with a plea for help.

Fear­ing that Se­le­nia and her lit­tle brother Be­tameche (Jimmy Fal­lon) are in peril, the lad hastily im­pro­vises a pas­sage back to the Min­i­moys where he joins forces with bar owner Max (Snoop Dogg) and his pick­pocket cousin Re­play (Stacy Fer­gu­son) to lo­cate Se­le­nia.

Arthur And The Great Ad­ven­ture plods from the start and barely moves into sec­ond gear when the ac­tion changes from live ac­tion to com­puter an­i­ma­tion.

High­more loses all emo­tion when he is re­duced to a mere voice, match­ing lack­lus­tre per­for­mances from his costars.

Ac­tion se­quences are brief and the de­tail in the vi­su­als is lack­ing next to re­cent Hollywood films.

Save your­self the trou­ble, a DVD re­play of Toy Story 3 or How To Train Your Dragon are far ‘greater’ ad­ven­tures than any­thing Bes­son can muster here.

LENGTHY JOUR­NEY: A group of men es­cape from a bru­tal Rus­sian gu­lag in Siberia and walk to Mon­go­lia in The Way Back.

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