Lost in Space (review)

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Oooh! The Pain!

Ultra cool! The best I’ve ever seen! Out of this world!

I’m speaking, of course, of the end credits of Lost in Space, which are a psychedelic, funked-up kind of Japanese anime (the kind that gives you epilepsy — woo woo!) accompanied by way-danceable techno-pop.

Unfortunately, you have to sit through two hours of movie before you get there.
The cover of this week’s Entertainment Weekly features the headline: “Danger, Will Robinson!: Hollywood Bets Big Bucks on a Campy TV Classic.” The cover photo is of three of the young stars of Lost in SpaceHeather Graham and Lacey Chabert, apparently imitating streetwalkers, and big-dumb-lug Matt LeBlanc — with he-who-can-do-no-wrong Gary Oldman peeking out from behind them.

EW‘s cover is the perfect metaphor for what’s wrong with Lost in Space.

Oldman is the only person on the screen who seems to be having fun. He camps it up as the evil-but-cowardly Dr. Zachary Smith, twisting cute Will Robinson around his little finger and scheming like mad. Oldman is brilliant. (Jack Johnson, who plays Will, also looks like he might be enjoying himself — but then, he’s nine or something, and he gets to play with the big robot.)

But Oldman’s Dr. Smith is kept mostly in the background, fighting for attention with the rest of the deadly earnest cast. William Hurt (whom you may remember is in the dog house with me since the awfully boring Dark City) and Mimi Rogers, as Professor John Robinson and Maureen Robinson, are Serious Actors who apparently think this is Shakespeare. Remember Jon Lovitz’s SNL character Master Thespian, who concluded his every overblown line with a flourish of his arm and a shout of “Acting!”? That’s Matt LeBlanc as Major Don West. Heather Graham’s Judy Robinson is present only to deflect West’s adolescent come-ons with flat one-liners. Even Lacey Chabert’s Penny-Robinson-deep-in-teen-angst is surprisingly humorless.

Of course, the cast isn’t totally at fault. Hollywood may have bet big bucks on a camp classic, but this Lost in Space is just a paint-by-number FX extravaganza. It has no attitude — and attitude is everything. Lost in Space the series may have been cheesy and cheap — which in our hipness we’ve retermed “camp” — but good writing, or sometimes simply daring writing, made up for a lack of budget.

But Lost in Space the movie bears no resemblance to the series other than the characters’ names. Hollywood has no budget fears here. Can’t come up with a clever, outrageous script? Don’t worry — we’ll just blow stuff up. A lot of stuff. And we’ll make the film socially conscious, too. Throw in some hokum about the environment. And we need a message, say, about how fathers and sons need to spend time together. So Maureen Robinson spends the entire movie nagging her husband about all the time he’s not spending with young Will. (The Robinson daughters are fine fending for themselves, I guess.)

This is Clue Express, with a special delivery for Hollywood: If it isn’t fun, it isn’t campy. Sign here, please.

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