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A Lackluster 'Land of the Lost'

I have seen only a single episode of Land of the Lost, the popular mid-’70s TV series that inspired (loosely speaking) Will Ferrell’s latest foray into the creative abyss, yet I can reasonably assume, given its three seasons on NBC and the years of syndication that followed, that it was more ambitious than director Brad Silberling’s stillborn comedy of the same name.

Was it better looking? Let’s not get carried away.

The original Lost, which used stop-motion animation and the occasional hand puppet to create low-rent approximations of dinosaurs and other prehistoric predators, is laughably quaint by comparison with Silberling’s big-budget update. Yet for all the time, energy and money – stunningly, an estimated $100 million – devoted to crafting a suitably other-worldly stomping ground for Ferrell and co-stars Anna Friel (Pushing Daisies) and Danny McBride, it’s worth noting that the new Lost is, by today’s standards, every bit as tacky and visually underwhelming.

But wait, you ask, isn’t that part of the joke – the tongue-in-cheek homage to the crude but lovingly conceived effects that lent Sid and Marty Krofft’s TV series its kitschy charm? Perhaps. In a movie desperate for inspiration, even cheap-looking sets and sloppy CGI might have seemed passably diverting to screenwriters Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas (Saturday Night Live), whose script awkwardly straddles the line between lowbrow comedy and half-hearted thriller.

But while the names and overall cheesiness remain the same, the new Land of the Lost is otherwise unrecognizable.

Played with the same wide-eyed pomposity Ferrell brought to iconic news anchor Ron Burgundy, Dr. Rick Marshall claims to have discovered a cure for earth’s energy crisis: time travel, made possible by his homemade tachyon amplifier. (Don’t ask.) After a humiliating run-in with Matt Lauer on The Today Show – one of the movie’s liveliest moments, already overexposed by a too-telling ad campaign – Marshall is exiled from the mainstream scientific community.

His theories are vindicated, however, when he, eager assistant Holly (Friel) and Will, a redneck tour guide infused with familiar bluster by McBride (HBO’s Eastbound and Down), are whisked off to an alternate dimension where dinosaurs, cavemen and the lizard-like Sleestak roam what appears to be a post-apocalyptic earth.

Once removed from any known strain of reality, Henchy and McNicholas could have taken Lost in any number of directions, making all the more disappointing their reliance on facile physical humor (Friel’s chest is groped gratuitously by Jorma Taccone’s impish caveman) and running gags about A Chorus Line and dinosaur piss.

McBride and Ferrell, who seems content to spin his wheels in vehicles that indulge his passion for stripping and dumbing down, are gifted performers whose goofy repartee breathed crazed life into Eastbound & Down. Here, they are given little to work with, and deliver accordingly.