Gulliver's Travels, Rob Letterman, 90 mins, (PG)

Some stars go to any length to be massive. Jack Black is merely overblown in a poor adaptation

Jack Black's sideline rock band is called Tenacious D, and he's certainly tenacious in milking his screen persona. Black was priceless in School of Rock as an overweight, underachieving, eternal adolescent blowhard, but the act has outstayed its welcome.

Despite attempts to rebrand himself as a mainstream all-rounder, Black seems doomed to remain a cartoon character in fleshy form. Lately, in fact, he's seemed most at ease as a talking cartoon animal, the bamboo-guzzling Kung Fu Panda.

Appropriately, Black's latest live-action vehicle has been entrusted to a CGI animation specialist, director Rob Letterman (the lamentable Shark Tale, the value-for-money Monsters vs Aliens). Gulliver's Travels is essentially a Hollywood panto in 3D. You'll get the gist from the poster image of Black's bulky frame tied up by miniscule people – the same sight gag to which Jonathan Swift's satire has been boiled down for nearly 300 years. Black's Gulliver works in the mailroom at a New York newspaper, and has only three interests in life: Star Wars, Guitar Hero and the paper's travel editor (Amanda Peet). To impress her, he plagiarises an online article from Time Out and fools her – because, you know, big-shot New York journalists are notoriously lazy about fact-checking – into sending him on a solo mission to the Bermuda Triangle.

Once there, a waterspout dispatches him to his beachside bondage date in Lilliput – a Ruritanian Legoland England, ruled by Billy Connolly and Catherine Tate, with Emily Blunt as their daughter. Gulliver extinguishes a palace fire with a stream of piss (the crassest joke in the film, and guess what? It comes straight from Swift). As a result, he's hailed a hero and spins the little people a lot of big lies about his status at home (in the film's one decent line, he's asked, "Don't you miss your subjects, and the White House, and the Millennium Falcon?"). There's one good visual set-up – the massed workers of Lilliput seem to toil on a vast construction project, but in fact they're brewing Gulliver's morning coffee. At least, it's a good gag until you start thinking how much design work and CGI computing power went into it.

Among the support cast, Chris O'Dowd's preening baddie steals the show with his affably clueless bluster, and Emily Blunt is good as a primly soppy princess ("It is too late! I am kidnapped!"). Of the other Brits, who presumably came in a budget package with the UK locations, Connolly and Tate do next to nothing and James Corden even less, occasionally looming sullenly at the edge of frame.

This sort of undemanding comedy, with real actors used as special-effects puppets, tends to look these days like a poor replacement for all-CGI anim-ation, which invariably packs more pizzazz and humanity. Gulliver's Travels feels a bit cheap and cheerful – only not that cheap, and certainly not that cheerful. The ropeyness is exacerbated by the scandalously cynical product placement, Fox properties (Avatar, Titanic, Star Wars) getting special prominence. For wit and imagination in warming over an old favourite, you're better off with your local production of Babes in the Wood.

As for the star, he gamely shakes his belly and shouts "Part-ayyyyy!" which looks increasingly undignified in a 41-year-old. "But what about my movie career as a jolly blustering rockn'roll fatman?" Mr Black might ask. Well, as they say in pantoland, "It's behind you!"



Next week

Jonathan Romney revels in the deathless mysteries of the Bogart classic, The Big Sleep

Jonathan Romney: Film 2010

Best from the US It was Hollywood's least inspiring showing in ages, and the US independent sector was hardly better. But there were a few bright spots. The Social Network caught the tone of the times and also cast an old-fashioned vote for the pleasures of talk, talk, talk. The Kids Are All Right was a modest, funky triumph for the comedy of ordinariness. However, my American favourite was Jason Reitman's Up in the Air, a gem of elegant cynicism in the Billy Wilder tradition.



Best of British Another Year, right, was vintage Mike Leigh - and I loved The Arbor, Clio Barnard's experiment in genre-bending social history and family portraiture.



Best Genre Films My vote goes to Splice – Vicenzo Natali's creepily Freudian Frankenstein story – and Rodrigo Cortes's ingenious Buried, 95 minutes in a coffin, which wins my "I'm A Film Critic, Get Me Out of Here" Award for best use of claustrophobia.



Best Comeback This goes to director Alain Resnais's luridly exuberant Wild Grass. When did you last see an 88-year-old have this much fun with hot colours and a crane?



Bad Sex Award This one has to be shared by Greenberg and Somewhere, in which Ben Stiller and Stephen Dorff respectively declare LA an international Cunnilingus Disaster Zone.



Duds of the Year Britdud: Ricky Gervais's sneery, stolid Cemetery Junction. Prestige Auteurduds: Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, with a script and a lead performance (Russell Crowe) hewn from solid oak; Woody Allen's barely functional Whatever Works; and for sheer am-I-not-an-artist pomposity, Francis Coppola's latest vanity project Tetro.



Breakthrough Performances of the Year Edgar Ramirez was marvellous as the shape-shifting Carlos; and Sylvie Testud, after long service in French cinema's Best-Kept-Secret Brigade, was the making of Lourdes.



Best Film Not Yet Released in the UK (and why not?) Sergei Loznitsa's My Joy is a mesmerisingly creepy tale of dark deeds on Russia's back roads, like a vodka-steeped Deliverance. Distributors, shift yourselves.



Film of the Year Tilda Swinton went alla Milanese for I Am Love (director Luca Guadagnino), an emotionally resonant, stylistically flamboyant, unfashionably opulent reinvention of the melodrama tradition. The food looked pretty appealing, too.

Also very special were: Dogtooth (Yorgis Lanthimos), Mother (Boon Joon-ho), Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul), Father of My Children (Mia Hansen-Love), Carlos (Olivier Assayas), Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvois), Lourdes (Jessica Hausner), The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel), The Bad Lieutenant (Werner Herzog) and – because it ain't a movie year without Pixar – Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich).

RIP It was the year to bid adieu to French New Wave founding fathers Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer, and raise a schnapps to Bruno Schleinstein, aka Bruno S, star of Herzog's The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, and cinema's greatest ever outsider actor.

Arts & Entertainment
TV

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit