“Land of the Lost” features two funny actors and a criminally underused actress tramping around an alternate reality in search of comedy but not finding much for us to laugh at.
Too raunchy for kids, too dull for anyone else, this over-budgeted and under-scripted film wastes everyone’s time, especially the audience’s. The original television series about a forest ranger and his two teenage children in a time warp land with dinosaurs and lizard people called Sleestaks was best known for effects that could hardly be called “special,” even for the 1970’s. But it had innocence and charm, while the remake has neither. It is so carelessly written that when the humanoids don’t understand English but the dinosaurs do it feels more like laziness than an attempt to be funny. It is too busy coming up with a reason for Ferrell to douse himself with dino pee to try to, for example, give the female character any — what’s the word? — character.
Will Ferrell plays Dr. Rick Marshall, a discredited scientist whose theories about the particles that control space and time are not taken seriously by anyone. Then Holly (Anna Friel), a young scientist from England, tells him that she has some proof that his theories are right. Led by Will (Danny McBride) a guy who sells fireworks and lives in a trailer, they go into a cave and find themselves catapulted into an alternate universe where they are chased by dinosaurs and befriended by a missing link ape-boy named Chaka (Jorma Taccone). Ferrell’s job in the movie (big surprise) is to vibrate between neediness, panic, and arrogance and run around in his underwear. Friel’s job is to know the answer to everything (she even speaks Chaka’s language), allow herself to be (literally) pawed, look very fetching in tiny little shorts, and gaze adoringly at Ferrell. The best moments in the film come from the always-hilarious Danny McBride (“Pineapple Express,” “Tropic Thunder”), the songs of “A Chorus Line,” and, surprisingly, from Matt Lauer, playing himself.
Meet two extraordinary women — Dee Roberts, based on a real-life single mother who took on corrupt and racist law enforcement officials in Texas and Nicole Beharie, the woman who plays her, who makes one of the most thrilling feature film debuts in years.
Dee is a single mother who lives in the projects. She works as a waitress and cares for her four daughters with the help of her mother (Alfre Woodard), a hairdresser. Her community is constantly being caught up in violent law enforcement sweeps that result in widespread arrests of people too poor, uninformed, and desperate to go to court. The county and state get federal funds based on conviction rates so they push hard, often without any real evidence. And the people who have been arrested, all black and all poor, have no resources to defend themselves and settle for plea bargains, not realizing that the admission of guilt will cut off their welfare payments and right to vote.
An ACLU lawyer (Tim Blake Nelson) arrives in town willing to challenge the district attorney (Michael O’Keefe), but he needs local counsel and he needs a plaintiff — someone who has been abused by the process to file the lawsuit. Only Dee has the courage and passion for justice to challenge the established power in her city.
Thankfully, the film avoids the too-frequent failure of making the white characters the heroes of a civil rights story. In this case, it is in part due to a skillful screenplay by Bill Haney and to Beharie’s star power in a performance of extraordinary sensitivity and fire. She has a mesmerizing ability to convey the mingled emotions of fear and resolve while maintaining sweetness and dignity. Her interactions with the four real-life sisters who play her young daughters feels completely authentic and as she thinks through her choices we feel we can see her weigh every option. The story is a classic American triumph of the oppressed through the court system but Dee is more than a client and a figurehead; she is an essential strategist, coming up with a crucial change of plans at the case’s turning point, and a constant source of inspiration. “After what they done to me, they made it my business,” she tells her mother.
It hits a little heavily on the implications of the 2000 election but wisely puts the story in context so that it is clear that the problem is systemic and not the result of one official or one town. Even more wisely, it keeps the focus on Dee, who as portrayed by Beharie is truly mesmerizing.
This week I will be reviewing “Where the Wild Things Are,” based on the classic book by Maurice Sendak, and “Law Abiding Citizen,” a thriller with Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx. Stay tuned!
Here’s a great new DVD from my all-time favorite series, just in time for Halloween — A Very Brave Witch…and more Halloween stories. In the title story, a little witch who has been taught that humans are scary decides to find out for herself and ends up making friends with a little girl dressed as a witch and sharing a very special broomstick ride. “The Witch in the Cherry Tree” tries to outsmart a boy named David to get his cakes and “By the Light of the Halloween Moon”