out of Five
Running time: 87
Gulliver's Travels almost works, thanks to a likeable cast and an occasionally witty script, but it's ultimately scuppered by some unbelievably crass product placement and a shockingly bad finale.
What's it all about?
Directed by Rob Letterman, Gulliver's Travels is based on the first part of Jonathan Swift's 1726 satirical classic (so no flying island of Laputa, no Houyhnhnms and only a cursory nod towards Brobdingnag) and stars Jack Black as Lemuel Gulliver, a 30 something slacker who works in the mailroom of a New York newspaper and pines after gorgeous travel editor Darcy (Amanda Peet). After bluffing his way into a travel writing assignment, Gulliver is sent to the Bermuda Triangle and winds up shipwrecked on the island of Lilliput, where he's promptly imprisoned by the Lilliputians, all of whom are only six inches tall.
Befriended by noble commoner Horatio (Jason Segel), Gulliver earns the trust of the King (Billy Connolly) and Queen (Catherine Tate) after he foils an attack by their rival neighbours and soon he's literally living the high life and advising Horatio how to woo Princess Mary (Emily Blunt). However, Mary's pompous suitor General Edward (Chris O'Dowd) despises Gulliver and plots to get rid of him.
Black's standard comic persona works surprisingly well, though you do find yourself hoping that this isn't the beginning of a trend whereby other classic works of literature will also be turned into Jack Black vehicles. The supporting cast are equally good, particularly Blunt (who's both charming and funny) and O'Dowd, who displays a hitherto unsuspected talent for comic villainy and steals every scene he's in.
To be fair, there are some decent jokes and the witty script has a lot of fun with the mangled overly formal way that the Lilliputians speak.
That said, the awful bits are so awful that the film becomes perilously close to unwatchable: for one thing, there's some jaw-droppingly crass product placement (a mobile phone gag is just the beginning), but the fatal blow comes at the end, where - spoiler alert - Gulliver attempts to broker a peace deal by leading everyone in a cringe-inducing rendition of 1970 hit, War! (What is it good for?).
On top of that, the film completely wastes Catherine Tate (which is a shame, as she's the best thing in it), but it also wastes James Corden, so on balance, it works out.
Gulliver's Travels has its moments, but its bad bits are so bad as to render it almost unwatchable. That said, it's better than some atrocious advertising would have you believe.