Friday Night and Saturday Morning 

Land of the Lost
Directed by Brad Siberling

You need only a glance at the Night at the Museum series to catch the folly (and often unfortunate financial reward) of the effects-driven fantasy comedy — and, as it happens, to make the best of Land of the Lost, Will Ferrell's appropriation of the live-action Saturday morning series. Ferrell plays Rick Marshall, a disgraced scientist whose time-warp theories are proved correct when he's sucked into an alternate dimension along with graduate student Holly (Anna Friel) and tourist trapper Will (Danny McBride).

The television versions (unseen by me) of Will and Holly were Marshall's children, but Land of the Lost is the rare adaptation that jettisons kids rather than piling them on to maximize quadrant appeal. For an effects-driven summer movie, it's surprisingly minimalist: three leads wander around the creature-laden outback, attempting to retrieve their missing time-travel device. Apart from the dinosaurs and lizardy Sleestaks, the only other character is the Lonely Island's Jorma Taccone, disturbingly natural as the ape-man Chaka.

The low human population, along with the vivid, tactile fakeness of Bo Welch's production design, gives Land of the Lost a kind of playground charm, even — or maybe especially — when it feels slapped together. Ferrell and McBride both softpedal their personas; Ferrell's pompous scientist shows his weaknesses earlier and more often than a Ron Burgundy or Ricky Bobby, and McBride's gung-ho hick is more of a genial wiseass than the near-psychotics he's played for buddy Jody Hill. Friel, meanwhile, so charming on Pushing Daisies, doesn't have much to do but rock her pigtails and cutoffs.

The effort level may not be high, but the spirits mostly are. Apart from an effective use of handheld cameras during a dino attack, director Brad Siberling doesn't have the sneaky discipline of a great comedy director; he often pauses for Ferrell and McBride to riff, rather than fully developing sequences and pushing the comedy headlong into the action. The technique develops, though, into an effective rhythm of oddball throwaway comedy tangling up with neat-looking dinosaurs and lizard people. Land of the Lost lacks the conviction, the crazed internal logic and deadpan execution, of the best effects comedies — a list that would begin with Ghostbusters and end with the better Ghostbusters knockoffs — but its Saturday morning aesthetic is authentically fleeting and fun.

Opens June 5


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