Of all the things you’d never expect to find on the resume of Mauna Loa-sized Jason Momoa under “special skills,” “plays nice with kids” has to be pretty far from predictable.
He’s the best thing, almost the only entertaining thing, in the dazzling eye-candy kiddie fantasy “Slumberland,” which suggests Netflix suits pondering the question, “What would a children’s movie from the director of ‘Constantine’ look like?” It’s just the sort of thing those gambling-with-house-money goofballs would sign off on.
I don’t see the comic strip “Little Nemo in Slumberland” credited on this, unlike the dazzling but little seen animated film from the late ’80s “Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland.” The new film isn’t wholly unrelated to that source material, or even that earlier film. But it’s even more “out there,” if that’s possible.
The fantasies of Terry Gilliam (“Time Bandits,””Brazil”), the Harry Potter universe, “Inception” and “The Never Ending Story” are sampled in this grab bag script that’s here mainly to provide Momoa a stage to show off over-the-top kid-friendly comic chops we never knew he possessed.
It’s got a character named Nemo whose nightly adventures through the vast dreamscape of Slumberland are a quest for her, and this “outlaw” and “pirate” and gonzo goof her dad used to know. She is looking for her father, a lighthouse keeper who home-schooled Nemo up until the day he was lost at sea.
Wacky, beefy Flip (Momoa) has his own quest, showing up at the lighthouse after Nemo’s dad (Kyle Chandler) undertakes one stormy rescue mission too many. Nemo (Marlow Barkley) is heartbroken and just wants to find her father and ditch her bachelor Big City uncle (Chris O’Dowd, stripped of his Irish accent and given little funny to say or do) where she’s been sent to live.
Flip is a horned, fanged, top-hatted dynamo straight out of Wonderland — Slumberland in this case — a nutball and a bull in a china shop when it comes to that lighthouse. He trashes it looking for a map. The kid can’t recall it, but she wouldn’t want to let this guy have it, anyway. He’s looking for these pearls in the vast somnambulant world of Slumberland. He needs the map to track them down and steal them. Because he’s a thief.
“You said ‘thief’ like it’s a BAD thing!”
If Nemo wants to ditch her doorknob-selling uncle, she’ll have to locate that hidden map and tag along with Flip as they navigate through Slumberland, jumping from dream to dream to dream, wildly conceived fantasies, some of them.
They interrupt a Spanish dancer’s reverie, whirling through a dance floor covered with figures who turn out to be butterflies congregating and taking human shape. They bop into a huge dump truck hurtling through city streets with a pre-school dreamer at the wheel.
At one point, they wreck and plunge into the deep, only to fight their near-drowning way out of the truck, stepping out of this dream by climbing through a portal that terminates in a tank on the back of a toilet.
Momoa hoots and hollers. He mugs for the camera. He teaches, threatens and teases. He gets the kid to dance with him.
David Guoin and Michael Handelman are the credited screenwriters. Team “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” and “Dinner for Schmucks” script a few funny bits about Canada’s most popular dream and Canadians in general (“Timmies!”) and wrote Flip’s lines about boiling life down to basics.
“Wine, women and WAFFLES! The three dubs!”
The plot is all over the place — literally — a dream cop hunting the sleep thief Flip all through Slumberland, Nemo’s waking hour schemes to slip out of school, find a quiet spot to read her uncle’s “History of Doorknobs” coffee table book and fall to sleep.
There are all these rules to this world, most of which have nothing to do with the quest and the characters on it.
But I laughed at a lot of what Momoa does and says, and cackled at the kid having trouble getting this stunningly dull (you’d think) doorknob book to put her to sleep.
“Why’d you have to be so INTERESTING?”
Pretty as the digital effects are, traipsing or racing through a glass and chrome “Inception” city, plunging beneath the waves, dodging the swirling tentacled clouds that represent nightmares because the kid is “a nightmare MAGNET,” they don’t add up to much of a plot. The film meanders into detours and kills the better part of two hours on a quest that seems close to wrapping up after one.
For all the visuals trotted out here, there isn’t enough to see or enough going on to fill the dead spaces littering this bloated film re-edit waiting to happen.
And man, I have GOT to stop looking up the STUPID money Netflix is shelling out for these high-end spectacles. It’s not like Elon Musk is threatening to take them over or anything. But DAMN. $150 million for this? Sure, “It’s all on the screen.” And?
At least Momoa is fun. Find him a comedy, somebody. He’s got Joe Manganiello’s build, and enough of his comic chops to handle a a movie that doesn’t require him to play a biker, a barbarian or a deep sea beefcake.
Rating: PG, scary images, some profanity
Cast: Jason Momoa, Marlow Barkley, Chris O’Dowd, Weruche Opia, and Kyle Chandler
Credits: A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:57