Film — The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (PG)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (PG)

by Amy Diaz

British affability meets the sci-fi-nerd love of Monty Pythonesque absurdity in the loony but mostly likeable The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

I should say right off that I never actually read the book — so I have no fanboy observations to make about how strictly it sticks to the plot. What I could tell from having read parts of the book is that the tone of the movie is most similar to the book in the cases when we are receiving narration-like information from the Hitchhiker’s Guide. That book has the plucky cheerfulness — even while relaying dismaying information about the unlikeliness of survival that we’ve come to expect not only from British comedy but from the U.K. as a country. (Something about the irony of the most sensible people on the planet still putting up with the hijinks of and pretending to revere a rather ridiculous royal family.)

That the movie more or less succeeds despite the similar dichotomy of a goofy plot fobbed on mostly deadpan characters has a lot to do with Martin Freeman, the actor who played the secretary-besotted worker on the BBC’s The Office and here plays Arthur Dent.

Arthur has what by any standards is a bad morning. He wakes up and is barely into his first sip of tea before bulldozers arrive to demolish his house — the result of local planning and the need for a highway bypass. His friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def) shows up to usher him off to a local pub where, we find out, Arthur isn’t half as upset about his house as he is about Trish (Zooey Deschanel), a cute girl he met at a party who has never called him back. Ford tells him not to worry so much about either his house or Trish because the entire planet of Earth is about to be eminent-domained out of existence to make way for a brand-new intergalactic by-pass.

The now planetless Arthur and Ford, who it turns out is an alien and a travel writer, hitch a ride on the spaceships of the Earth-razing construction crew and begin their space journey. After getting kicked off that ship, they wind up on the stolen space ship piloted by the space president Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell, playing a dazzling-smile-having rock-star version of George W. Bush). It just so happens that Zaphod attended the same party that Arthur did back on Earth and met and whisked away Trish, who now calls herself Trillian. Arthur and Ford agree to tag along on Zaphod’s quest to find the big question of life that fits the answer 42 (Ford because such adventures are his job; Arthur because his ardent but schlubbily-articulated feelings for Trillian require him to shadow her).

The cast is rounded out by the all-knowing computer Deep Thought (Helen Mirren), the depressive robot Marvin (voiced by Alan Richman) and the race of bureaucrats that chase our heroes throughout the galaxy and look like a cross between a fat British constable and Jabba the Hut. These characters help to accentuate the feeling that this movie is overly silly, a little stale in its parody and more goofy than genuinely funny. The movie seems like it was hugely amusing for those who made it and, like all inside jokes, this translates into something a little less entertaining when retold to a third party.

Having said that, however, Hitchhiker’s Guide is relentlessly good-natured. The movie doesn’t bore you by dwelling too much on any one gag, so if the depressive mutterings of a giant-headed robot don’t do it for you, there’s the ditzy, Southern-accented president. And if that doesn’t float your boat, there’s the mousiness of the meek Arthur to pass the time.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy never astounds, amazes or amuses to any great degree but it is unfailingly pleasant.

- Amy Diaz

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