As based on Jonathan Swift's classic satire, 'Gulliver's Travels' is appropriately construed here as the story of a big man telling tall tales. But of course the big man is played here by that chubby rascal Jack Black, and of course his Lemuel Gulliver is a lowly mail-room worker at a bustling New York City newspaper. Of course he has a crush on travel editor Darcy (Amanda Peet), and of course he plaigirizes writing samples in order to impress her, and of course he takes her up on a Bermuda Triangle assignment in lieu of telling her the truth.
Of course, this journey lands him among the little people of Lilliput, where he is first regarded as beast (after landing on their shores and losing one of their number up his bare bum) and then hero (after urinating on Billy Connolly's king and thus saving him from a fire). He talks a big game, fending off similarly small foes with ease and helping peasant Horatio (Jason Segel) court Princess Mary (Emily Blunt) with spoken Prince lyrics, all the while irritating Gen. Edward (Chris O'Dowd), whose plans to retaliate involve building what is essentially a knock-off Transformer with which to give our trumped-up hero a wedgie.
I don't remember that much about Swift's original story, and of course, with a pitch like this, no one has to. It's numbing to watch the moderate imagination that comes with placing a big man among a shrunken society (and, eventually, turning the tables by sending said man to super-sized Brobdingnag next door) fade away in favor of gross-out gags, pop-culture references and a sing-along finale more groan-inducing than most.
Connelly, Segel, Blunt, Peet and especially O'Dowd are all being good sports; of course, that's what they're all being paid to do. And Jack Black does his Jack Black routine, of course, mugging with a tenacity no green-screen effect can match. Better yet, he even manages to say lines like "These little people have grown large in my heart" with a straight face -- this is why he gets paid the big bucks, people.
It's not the worst family film of the year, nor even second or third or fourth, but it is depressingly dependable on disappointing good taste and moderate expectations at every turn. Director Rob Letterman's previous film was the surprisingly clever 'Monsters vs. Aliens,' which made better use of the 3D format than this film can claim. Before that, Letterman directed 'Shark Tale,' which also starred Black and is hardly worth mentioning at all.
Needless to say, the kids won't mind that much. If I were 6, I'd probably be tickled to death by the fat man's antics; that's the great thing about being a kid. As an adult, though, there's little reason to recommend a movie in which a big man tells tall tales, tales that all happen to sound a lot like 'Star Wars,' 'Titanic,' and other movies foreign to the population of Lilliput -- and better for the 6-year-olds in your life.