Review: Gulliver's Travels (PG)*

The 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 ill-starred 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 mind-numbing 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.

Back to the top of the page