Not counting when you first saw the trailer, when do you first get the feeling that "Land of the Lost" is in trouble? Immediately.
In the movie's first post-title scene, crackpot scientist Dr. Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell, "Step Brothers") is flogging his new book on "The Today Show" and his interview with host Matt Lauer, playing himself, isn't going well. Lauer gets the movie's first laugh and I wondered if Ferrell and director Brad Silberling ("Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events") really meant for Lauer to set the pace.
Marshall believes that movement between dimensions and alternate universes is possible, but he doesn't attempt a field test of his tachyon gizmo until encouraged by Holly, a hot young science student from England (Anna Friel, TV's "Pushing Daisies"). They experience "the greatest earthquake the world has ever known" and, along with a redneck doofus named Will (Danny McBride, "Observe and Report"), wind up in a place where anything dreamed up by sitcom writers can happen.
After flopping down on a patch of lost-land desert containing a Viking ship and what could be Amelia Earhart's plane, they meet Cha-Ka, a Sleestak, sort of a "2001" australopithecine reject (Jorma Taccone, "Hot Rod"). From there, the movie is essentially a series of sketches and concepts, most of which don't work very well, stretched out over 93 minutes.
So what do we get? Lots of aimless running and screaming "? the farce's traditional demand for "louder, faster, funnier." Two of out three, anyone? There are some CGI dinosaurs. Several gags based on bodily excretions, especially numbers one and two.
Some of the throwaway gags worked for me. As the tachyon gizmo first hums to life, we see Marshall looking down at it, his face lit by a soft blue light. "It's beautiful," he gasps in a moment that perfectly parodies Paul Freeman's Dr. Belloq in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" just before his head melts.
If only TV writers Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas could have come up with more stuff like that, Ferrell wouldn't have to fall back on recycling his standard movie persona. Yes, earlier movie comedians have mined one character for all s/he was worth, but audiences saw them only once or twice a year. With basic cable, On Demand and DVD, we can see Ferrell "? or any movie star "? so often it's easy for them to become overexposed.
Lauer ends the movie, which is based on a 1970s TV series, with another solid laugh. Who knew? Maybe "Land of the Lost" isn't really a Will Ferrell picture at all. Maybe it's a Matt Lauer movie and Ferrell just hogs most of it. Maybe they'll cut out all that unfunny Ferrell stuff for the DVD. That would leave us with a five-minute movie full of funny material instead of an intermittently amusing 93-minute one.
Sounds good to me.