Gulliver's Travels: Comedy, Parody or Travesty? Or All Three?

When you go to see a Jack Black movie based on Gulliver's Travels, you pretty much know what you're in for, right? The book itself is already pretty raunchy, so add in Jack Black's usual shtick of being a man-child who makes lewd comments and you've got the general idea. But there were so many little things in the movie that made me shake my head, either because they were better than what I'd hoped, or much, much worse, that make it difficult to write off. Part of me wants to see it again, to figure out if the parts I liked at all counterbalanced the parts I despised. Based on a single viewing, I'm going to say they don't.

Black plays Lemuel Gulliver, the head of the mailroom at the miraculously still-alive New York Tribune, who harbors a crush on the Travel editor (Amanda Peet) but can't bring himself to ask her out. (It's played off as his fear of success, instead of a legitimately impossible coupling -- in fact, she seems kind of into him.) When a new mailroom hire is immediately given Gulliver's job, he goes to see her and kinda-sorta tells her he's a travel writer. Some plagiarized samples later, he's off to the Bermuda Triangle, where a solo boat ride takes him up a waterspout (like an inverted Land of the Lost) and washes him up on an island of little people who are stuck in the Victorian era, but with some steampunk technology. Bonding with a fellow inmate (Jason Segel), he is imprisoned and initially treated like a work animal, until he saves the princess (Emily Blunt) from being kidnapped and pees on a fire that threatens the king (Billy Connolly). The peeing is of course, courtesy Jonathan Swift, although I'm sure Black could have come up with it on his own.

Now a hero, Gulliver is given every luxury, to the annoyance of General Edward (Chris O'Dowd), especially since Gulliver's prison buddy is making eyes at the princess. There are gags about little people acting out Gulliver's life story by way of famous movies, and an all-Lilliputian Rock Band game, and when Gulliver vanquishes an enemy armada, he's made General, which makes Edward an outright enemy. O'Dowd is pretty amazing as the skilled soldier, who lacks any social skills and strictly adheres to the formal way of speaking with "eth" at the end of every word, which the King at one point simply decides to do away with. If you've ever seen O'Dowd on The IT Crowd, he's just as good here. Blunt is a mixed bag, sometimes playing a pretty funny caricature of a dim princess, but she seems to become more intelligent and liberated simply by being in Gulliver's presence, for some reason. Segel is as awkward as always as he acts on Gulliver's courtship advice, Cyrano de Bergerac style, and Catherine Tate (Doctor Who) makes the most of her few lines as the Queen. She was a pleasant British-TV surprise, as was James Corden (Gavin & Stacey) as the Prince.

All of the Lilliputians could very well be acting in a much better farce -- perhaps the French Revolution segment of History of the World? -- which makes it jarring whenever Jack Black comes in and acts all silly. It's like they're self-consciously making fun of the movie they're actually in, and Black, acting in front of a bluescreen somewhere, isn't in on the joke. I kept waiting for the two movies that were playing out side-by-side to come together at the end, but the way they do -- with an elaborately choreographed musical number that comes completely out of nowhere -- is unfortunate. It wasn't the first time that I laughed at the film, instead of with it (glamorous Peet's near-longing for the portly mail room clerk did it for me a couple of times), but there are a few genuine laughs to be had, as well.

Did you see Gulliver's Travels? Let us know what you thought below, then check out our gallery of Jack Black's most annoying roles. Then read more movie reviews here!

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