Movies: Gulliver's Travels ***
(PG, general release)
Jonathan Swift was not above a spot of low humour, and might even have approved of Jack Black playing Gulliver. However, were he in a position to attend a screening of Rob Letterman's Gulliver's Travels, he might wonder where most of his book's plot had gone. Set in the present, Letterman's film plays fast and loose with the original text and mainly uses the Lilliputian concept as the basis for romance and jokes -- and nothing especially wrong with that, I suppose.
Black is Lemuel Gulliver, a thirtysomething dreamer who, after 10 years in the employ of a Manhattan publishing company, has failed to advance beyond the post room. He has a crush on a beautiful travel writer called Darcy (Amanda Peet), who seems to return his interest. When he eventually plucks up the courage to approach her, a misunderstanding leads to him being assigned to do a travel story on the Bermuda Triangle. When he sets out alone on the open seas, a huge storm picks him up and deposits him on a strange island, where he's taken captive by the Lilliputians.
A tiny but bellicose people, the Lilliputians are ruled over by a kindly but absent-minded king (Billy Connolly), who is unduly influenced by his socially ambitious general, Edward (Chris O'Dowd). Edward is betrothed to the beautiful Princess of Lilliput (Emily Blunt), but she has feelings for a commoner called Horatio (Jason Segel), who was thrown in jail for looking too longingly at her. Gulliver befriends Horatio in their shared dungeon, and encourages him not to give up hope. And when Gulliver puts out a fire at the royal palace by peeing on it and then defeats a rival navy, he becomes a firm favourite at court. But Edward feels slighted, and begins to plot against him.
Gulliver's Travels is pretty lazy about the fine details of getting its hero to and from Lilliput, and Gulliver's adventures in Brobdingnag and beyond are dealt with only perfunctorily. But the collision of Jack Black and a fusty royal kingdom raises enough genuinely funny moments to make this a slight but enjoyable family film.