Jonathan Swift‘s caustic satire on human folly has been re-imagined by Hollywood as a knockabout vehicle for Jack Black – and the result is a film so witless that that you wish the 18th-century author were still alive to use it as a target for his mockery. At his most buffoonish, Black plays the film’s latter-day Lemuel Gulliver, a boastful mailroom clerk in a New York publishing company who somehow wangles a travel writing assignment on the Bermuda Triangle from Amanda Peet‘s editor. After getting sucked into a freak whirlpool, he washes ashore on an island inhabited by a race of diminutive people who wear 18th-century dress and have manners to match. There he impresses the tiny folk with his tall tales, repels an enemy armada and shakes up the stuffiness of the royal family headed by Billy Connolly‘s king, Catherine Tate‘s queen and Emily Blunt‘s princess. The filmmakers want us to cheer Black’s crass Gulliver all the way, but their celebration of the most idiotic aspects of contemporary junk culture goes against the grain of the book. Yet there is one feature of Swift’s original that the movie does preserve intact. Unsurprisingly, it’s the scene where Gulliver puts out a raging Lilliputian fire by urinating on the flames, with gross consequences for the unfortunate bystanders – and the viewers.
Released by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment on DVD & Blu-ray Triple Play on 16th May.