Take the loudmouthed idiot shtick of Will Ferrell, mix it with a family-friendly action adventure, force the combined concoction into a PG-13 frame that doesn't do any favors to anyone, and just for fun, overlay the whole project with in-jokes referring back to a 1974 kid's TV show that is only fondly remembered by the people who were kids or stoners when it first aired and therefore probably don't currently fall in the category of Will Ferrell fans or family movie fans, and the result will naturally be one of the messiest and most disagreeable films of 2009. However, you haven't quite managed to imagine the deeply broken Land of the Lost, because for no good fucking reason at all, this movie was shot by Dion Beebe and scored by Michael Giacchino, so it looks and sound far too gorgeous for unapologetic crap.

Considerably revamping Sid and Mary Krofft's series about a family that gets thrown into an alternate universe of dinosaurs, ape-men and fierce lizard people, the new movie stars Ferrell as Dr. Rick Marshall, a blowhard physicist-paleontologist whose theories about time travel make him the joke of the science world, until years after retreating in disgrace to a remote job hosting lectures at the La Brea Tarpits, he somewhat by accident uses his homemade tachyon amplifier to open up a rift that sends him, doctoral candidate Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel) and fireworks enthusiast and general trashbag Will Stanton (Danny McBride) hurtling into an alternate unverse of dinosaurs &c. There they undergo a series of slapsticky action sequences that are all geared more or less toward retrieving the tachyon amplifier and opening a door back to their own proper version of Earth.

The movie's big problem? It can't decide what the hell it wants to be. One of the most successful hybridisations in the whole project is Rick Marshall himself, a combination of the typical scientist hero of so many gleefully trashy B-movies (misunderstood and mocked by his peers, and his knowledge seems to be Science Itself, across a number of different disciplines), and the screaming manchild idiot so common among Ferrell's many comedies. That actually works pretty well. But trying to breed the two movies that those characters are found in... that fails. Hard. For something that looks and talks so much like a Will Ferrell comedy, Land of the Lost contains surprisingly few jokes, unless it's just that the jokes are so exceptionally bad that I didn't even recognise them. Instead, it puts a Will Ferrell comedy character in a position where he has to be an adventure hero, and it's just so weird to watch, the kind of weird that's more off-putting than anything else.

Perhaps this would be forgivable is the film succeed as an action-adventure, but of course it does not (although, oddly, it doesn't necessarily fail as a comedy: though there is little humor indeed, the hit-to-miss ratio is pretty good, considering the small overall number of obvious gags). Considering that director Brad Silberling was behind the generally functional if somewhat dull Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events back in 2004, it is a bit surprising to see how horribly he mishandles anything vaguely adventurous and awesome in this film. Not an idea goes by that is treated with anything but offhand interest, whether it's a T-rex chase that is shot with a startling number of lazy wide shots (how hard can it possibly be to successfully rip off Jurassic Park?), or squandering Bo Welch's playful, imaginative, and plainly costly sets by filming them like a bored tourist with a cameraphone. Just about the only thing that he does successfully is to imbue the Sleestaks, vicious lizard people with multiple sets of gnashing teeth, with a fairly impressive level of horror creepiness, making the movie just scary enough that the people who expected this to be the kids' movie that its pedigree suggested are going to have some very shaken-up four-year-olds to console on the car ride home.

Having mentioned Bo Welch (who hasn't done much of anything for a really long time, a fate unbecoming the Batman Returns designer), I should probably credit the design of the film: for indeed, it looks pretty great. The sets are a charming combination of imagination and deliberate fakery, all the better to pay tribute to the Krofft's original; the Sleestak costumes are defiantly rubbery, and in this world of omnipresent CGI, if there's one quck way into my heart, it's obviously-artificial practical monster effects. Beebe shoots it all with the gloss that is his hallmark, and not too much imagination; but the shiny cinematography well suits the "gee whiz!" goofiness that marks all of the film's best moments, rare though they might be.

Absent these niceties, there's precious damn little about Land of the Lost that's even a little bit entertaining: it's not allowed to be funny, but it's not nearly good enough to be exhilirating. Though it is not the most brain-hurting film of the summer (that would be Night at the Museum 2), it's still pretty dispiriting, nearly two hours of nothing at all besides two funnymen and one disposable, objectified woman running from place to place, screaming a bit, joking about bodily functions, and running around a bit more. Although it's fun every now and then, it's mostly wearying and slapdash, the kind of summer movie that is absolutely nothing but a product, and a vehicle for extremely forthright product placement, and no effort has been spent in turning a story about the magic of finding a new world into something with even the remotest hint of magic itself.