Paradise Fall Guys

Are there no undivorced dads in the movies any more? And do they all end up going to some imaginary realm to find with their inner child and so be able to reconnect with their children? My theory: these movies are written, produced and directed by divorced Hollywood dads who are overworked and are trying to find with their inner child if not to reconnect with their inner child than at least to dredge up some material the kids in the audience (or their parents might) like and thus earn enough to make child support payments.

What brought this to mind was a screening of "Imagine That" in which Eddie Murphy plays a Wall Street whiz who's losing his edge until he notices that his daughter (the adorable newcomer Yara Shahidi) has imaginary playmates who have inside information on hot investment commodities. My first response was, have we come this? Kids' imaginations taken over by stock futures? At any rate, this skill interests Murphy in his child's inner world (he had been a workaholic coldly ignoring her up to then) and the resulting scenes of them bonding are some of the best work Murphy has done in years. Funny! Heartwarming! And an insight into why Wall Street recently took such a disastrous turn.

Another film following this pattern is "Night at the Museum: The Battle of the Smithsonian," which I didn't see. But I did see the original and from what I heard this is much the same, but worse. In the first one, once again a divorced dad with work problems, a museum security guard played by Ben Stiller, bonds with his estranged son  when an invisible, magical world springs to life (I guess in the sequel they pretty much dump the kid and it's the imaginary world itself that Stiller's character is neglecting) which father and son can  both share. Hey, it's easier just playing video games. But inevitably dad's work and family problems are both solved, and Stiller's reputation takes another hit.

That's two movies on this theme, and as we all know it takes at least three examples to make for a trend. So how about "Up"? Wait, you say, Carl, the hero of "Up," is not a divorced single dad, he's a childless widower. True, I reply, but his sidekick Russell is the son of a divorced dad. Russell consequently has father issues and begrudgingly Carl takes on the role of surrogate pop and when the pair sail to Paradise Falls (a play on words, perhaps? Paradise falling? Like in the Bible, sort of?) they bond and Russell finds a new dad and Carl finds his inner child. (And note "The Wizard of Oz" resemblance, with a flying house, no less).

All of this cogitating is giving me a headache, which reminds me of "The Hangover." True, there is no divorced dad in this raunchy comedy about a quartet of knuckleheads who head to Vegas for a bachelor party. The only dad is the finagling Phil, and his wife and kids barely make a cameo. The other guys aren't even married, yet. But let's stretch the paradigm a bit. Though there are no children to speak of  (some show up in the middle of the film  armed with taser guns in a scene I'm still scratching my head over), but there sure are some childish adults. There's Doug, the meek chump for whom the party is taking place, who disappears for most of the movie. There's Stu, who's treated like a child by his emasculating, basilisk of a fiancée. And there's the loose cannon Alan who, it is suggested, might be a child molester. At any rate, they all journey to the imaginary, magical Paradise of Las Vegas where they avoid arrest, raise hell, lose their memories, and get in touch with their inner, if depraved child, preparing them presumably for a future of being respectable, conforming, breeding adults.

So let's move on from the Land of the Losers to "The Land of the Lost." Here a team of lunkheads (one a woman for the purposes of crude sexual humor) led by Will Farrell (Can you think of a film in which he's played a father? I can't either) who have regressed far beyond childishness to infantilism travel to another dimension, a desert studded with the detritus of pop culture. It's inhabited by dinosaurs, giant bugs, big piles of poop and intoxicating sugary drinks. In short, a kids' paradise as dreamed up by Hollywood marketing people and the countless toy, sweets, video game  and crapola manufacturers that also prey on children. And there they act like idiots in a Neverland of inanity forever.

It's the Peter Pan myth as opposed to "The Wizard of Oz." In the latter the protagonist (an adolescent girl, significantly) journeys to a magical realm and learns there's no place like home. In short, she learns adult responsibility while retaining some of childhood's innocence and imagination.  But "The Land of the Lost" offers neither maturity nor innocence, but rather the kind of stunted growth and benighted intelligence that makes for the ideal consumer.


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