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Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011 09:10 pm

Black’s enthusiasm makes Travels worth taking


Jack Black stars in Gulliver's Travels.

When it comes to people, and sometimes movies, charm can go a long way. Such is the case with Rob Letterman’s Gulliver’s Travels, a very loose adaptation of the Jonathan Swift classic fitted to Jack Black’s oversized personality. On paper, this seems like a very bad idea. However, as this modern take on the tale plays out, it proves winning at times, thanks in large part to the enthusiasm the cast brings to the project.

Lemuel Gulliver (Black) is a man stuck in more ways than one. Paralyzed with fear whenever he’s around Darcy (Amanda Peet), the travel editor at the newspaper where he works, he’s also been a mail clerk for more than a decade. As his new boss Dan (T.J. Miller) points out, “You’re never going to get any bigger than this.” Nothing like some heavy-handed foreshadowing to kick things into high gear and before you know it, Gulliver approaches Darcy for a travel writing assignment and he’s off to report on the mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle.

Soon after setting sail, a water vortex with Gulliver’s name on it sucks him into another dimension and he wakes up on the shores of Lilliput, where he’s literally a giant among its tiny inhabitants. At first thought to be a monster and imprisoned, he meets Horatio (Jason Segel), a commoner who loves Princess Mary (Emily Blunt) but is unable to speak to her because of his station. He’s constantly reminded of this by her jealous fiancé General Edward (Chris O’Dowd).

Much of the movie’s fun comes from watching Gulliver get the Lilliputian royals to loosen up. The restraint these tiny folk are under is stifling, but an infusion of 21st century boorishness as supplied by their wayward guest soon has everyone speaking their mind, brushing class boundaries aside and expressing themselves in slang. It’s rather simplistic at times, but it’s fun nonetheless.

To be sure, the film stumbles when our hero is forced to wrestle a robot and there’s a sense things are being padded when he’s exiled. Still, Black’s personality saves the day. He goes all out to entertain and his enthusiasm is hard to resist, especially when he’s using the immortal words of the modern poet Prince to help Horatio woo Princess Mary. Cyrano would be impressed.  

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org

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