Some films are phoned in. The staggeringly awful "Gulliver's Travels" was texted. Having run through every second-rate TV show, 1980s cartoon character and theme park ride, imagination-starved Hollywood is now ransacking classic literature for properties to ruin. The only potential upside of this bomb's release would be if Jonathan Swift clawed his way from the grave and wreaked ghastly zombie revenge on those responsible.
The story is simple enough for a toddler to follow. The film may even have been made by preschoolers. Once again Jack Black plays an obese air guitar hero in T-shirt, cargo shorts and sneakers. This time he's called Lemuel Gulliver and he works as a mail clerk for a magazine. His crush on the travel editor (toothy Amanda Peet, visibly concentrating on her paycheck) leads him to fabricate some writing samples and land an assignment about the Bermuda Triangle.
A magic whirlpool warps him to a land where the people are pee-wee and the laughs are infinitesimal. A cascade of oafish slapstick ensues. The plot is something about Lilliput's regency monarch (Billy Connolly) and princess (Emily Blunt) needing Gulliver's help to resist the advances of a pushy suitor (Chris O'Dowd) and a warlike rival nation. There is a teeny naval battle, several dance routines to tired pop songs, a "Transformers"-style robot smackdown, and a few butt-crack jokes.
The guiding principle here is that Black's tired man-child shtick will be fresh and new if he looks 90 feet tall. There's no hint of inspiration or passion in the execution. Nobody seems to have worked very hard except the merchandising department, which scored scads of product placements. Counting them as they pass by is one of the more amusing pastimes this abomination provides. A wandering mind isn't just inevitable in a movie like this, it's a matter of self-defense. Instead of prohibiting unauthorized cell phone use, the ushers for "Gulliver's Travels" should confiscate the viewers' belts and shoelaces.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186