“Gulliver's Travels:” Jack Black Hits Repeat

Remember "Gulliver's Travels," that delightful satirical fantasy by Jonathan Swift which your parents probably read to you at bedtime when you were growing up? Well, it's been remade, yet again, this time with Jack Black in the lead, some seriously low-rent special effects and the kind of puerile humor that relies on urine for laughs. If this film is any indication of what happens when Black and writer Nicholas Stoller get together to futz with our treasured childhood memories, we have some serious concerns about their involvement in the upcoming "Muppets" movie.

About every five to ten years, someone tries to adapt "Gulliver's Travels," whether as a movie, an animated offering or a miniseries starring Ted Danson, with varying levels of success.

In this very loose version, a first effort at live-action by director Rob Letterman whose previous work includes "Monsters vs. Aliens" and "Shark Tale," Black stars as Lemuel Gulliver, a "Star Wars"-loving, Guitar Hero-playing slacker with a heart-of-gold (obviously, Black is really stretching his acting wings on this one) who's spent years in the mailroom of a New York publishing firm. In an effort to win the affections of his boss (Amanda Peet), he claims to be a travel writer by plagiarizing an article from Time Out, lands a trial job, and is sent off to investigate the Bermuda Triangle. But after being caught in a terrible storm, he finds himself transported to an island where he's a giant among the natives, the Lilliputians, and becomes their leader so they can defeat their rivals, the Blefuscudians.

There are a number of problems with these "Travels," the most significant being Stoller and Joe Stillman's grating and shockingly unimaginative script and CGI that looks like it was left over from the vaults of 1999, but whether or not you'll enjoy the film comes down to one question: Do you find Jack Black's shtick funny? Because, for us, it's worn painfully thin, trumped only by Zach Galifianakis' brand of kabuki comedy, and this movie is the same performance Black always does, but with the added bonus of lame special effects and a lingering headache that we'd like to blame on the 3D glasses rather than the overall experience, but we can't be sure.  

Not that we're all that surprised.

We've been suspect of this flick ever since it got a new release date. Originally slated to arrive in theaters in June, it was pushed into December, supposedly so they could convert it in 3D, which was the first major sign of trouble (see: "Alice in Wonderland," "Clash of the Titans"). What we wonder is, was it timed this late in the year to capitalize on holiday movie spending, when you're so worn down by mall mayhem and family inundation that you'll see just about anything for a two-hour respite in the darkness, or did they hold the film until the last week of the year in order to avoid high placement on critics' Worst of 2010 lists, most of which have already been submitted and published?

Probably a bit of both, because the only travel more painful than this movie involves a too handsy screener and a crying baby next to you in coach.

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