Land Of the Lost starts promisingly enough. An astronaut runs through a swamp. He's scared, trying to raise someone on his radio. He's supposed to be on Earth, but the three moons glowing in the night sky tell us he's not. He realizes he's being followed. He stops running, turns. We see something terrible reflected in the visor of the astronaut's helmet. Hard cut to the "Land Of the Lost" title card, along with a dissonant music cue that would be right at home in Jerry Goldsmith's Planet Of the Apes score.
This is a lot more awesome than the Will-Ferrell-plus-dinosaurs comedy I was expecting. I say this as a guy who likes Will Ferrell and dinosaurs. And comedy.
After that title card, Will Ferrell shows up. And the movie starts getting less awesome. Ferrell is playing Dr. Rick Marshall, the latest in a long line of Ferrell's over-confident buffoons. This is a character Ferrell does well--I'm especially fond of the Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby iterations. But something seems tired this time around, despite the efforts of Ferrell and Matt Laurer (playing himself).
Dr. Marshall picks up a couple of sidekicks, one a pretty girl (Anna Friel), one a dumb dude (Danny McBride), and the three accidentally take a trip to a strange alternate dimension, a "land of the lost" as it were. (Matt Laurer stays home.)
I'm leaving out a lot of details here, but, even this early in the movie, the tone is all over the place. Is it a Will-Ferrell-as-buffoon comedy? Is it a sci-fi adventure? Is it a send-up of overly earnest sci-fi adventures (like the Land Of the Lost television show, on which this movie is based)?
Unfortunately, the tone never evens out. Which is a shame, because the tone thing should, and could, have been addressed by the screenplay. Here's a movie with a solid cast, excellent cinematography and production design, groovy practical effects (lizard men!), and decent dinosaurs (to this day, I don't think anyone has topped the original Jurassic Park dinos). But the screenwriters don't know what kind of story they want to tell, and there's no way the movie can overcome that lack of direction.
Even the music seems confused. Michael Giacchino, who wrote one of my favorite scores of recent years (The Incredibles), can't decide whether he wants to be Jerry Goldsmith in weird, unsettling mode or John Williams in stirring, uplifting mode. (Note to Giacchino: you should have stuck with the Goldsmith-y stuff.)
When Jon Lucas and Scott Moore wrote The Hangover, they knew exactly what kind of story they wanted to tell. A funny story. A no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners funny story.
The plot couldn't be simpler. Four friends hit Vegas for a night of partying. Three wake up the next morning, unable to remember the party night or the whereabouts of friend number four. They embark on a mission to find their missing comrade, and (I say this in all seriousness) hilarity ensues.
I shouldn't give Lucas and Moore all the credit for that hilarity. While they devise a plethora of absurd situations for our protagonists, the director (Old School alum Todd Phillips) and actors (especially Zach Galifianakis, turning awkwardness into high art) work hard to wring every possible laugh from each scene.
I'm not sure what else I can say about The Hangover without starting to list details of all the funny stuff that happens in the movie. And that's no good. So I'll just wholeheartedly recommend the flick to any not-easily-offended folks (the movie earns its "R" rating) looking for a good time at the multiplex.
Oh, and now that I think about it, that simple plot I mentioned earlier is actually kind of elegant. Most, if not all, of the bizarre events in the first half of the movie pay off in unexpected, yet logical, ways in the movie's second half. If there's some kind of "most laughs/fewest plot holes" award for this summer's movies, The Hangover is gonna be tough to beat.