Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy

For those keeping tabs, Dolphins knew all along. They tried to tell us, but being the third smartest species on Earth, we misinterpreted their squeaks and squawks as noise and their back flips as tricks. Humans can be such dunderheads, which makes our demise inconsequential when intergalactic engineers decide to annihilate Earth to build a bypass.

At least the Dolphins were smart enough to hitch a ride off the planet, taking one last moment to thank us for all the free fish. Excuse me? We enslave, humiliate, ridicule and debase an entire species, and all they have to say is thanks for the free fish? That’s gratitude for you, something in short supply in the big screen version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a whimsical bit of silliness lifted from the pages of Douglas Adams’celebrated and revered novel.

Moments before alien wrecking crews render Earth into cosmic eye shadow, Englishman Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is facing down another wrecking crew, one intent on leveling his quaint countryside home to make room for, what else, a bypass. The irony is not lost on Dent’s best friend, the laid back Ford Perfect (Mos Def), who understands what goes around comes around.

Fortunately for Dent (and unfortunate for everyone else), Ford is an alien who whisks his best friend off the planet before Kirstie Alley sings Karaoke. Dent and Ford hitch a ride on a Vogon ship, Intergalactic pencil pushers known for their attention to detail. Since they didn’t request permission in triplicate, Dent and Ford are set adrift, only to be picked up by Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) in the stolen craft Heart of Gold.

On board the Heart of Gold, Dent is reunited with earthling Trisha (Zooey Deschanel), now called Trillian, who has joined Beeblebrox on his quest to find super computer Deep Thought to learn the meaning of life. At the mercy of a manic depressive robot named Marvin (voice of Alan Rickman) and an improbability hyper drive with a mind of its own, the intergalactic motley crew leap from one adventure to the next, all accompanied by liberal doses of wry humor.

Although not as deeply entrenched in Adams’trademark cynicism and dry wit, the screenplay by Adams (before his death) and Karey Kirkpatrick is a pleasant diversion which frequently captures our imagination. Director Garth Jennings finds just the right tone to tell the story, deftly blending whimsy and science-fiction. Jennings avoids turning The Guide into a live action cartoon. He also avoids the current computer generated trappings of the genre, opting instead for latex creatures that are so old school they seem fresh again.

Freeman, an employee of the British version of The Office, is hilarious as Dent. There’s an everyman quality to his delivery, a regular Joe who survives the destruction of Earth in his pajamas and slippers. Freeman interjects just the right amount of bewilderment and bemusement into Dent, who can’t believe he not only survived, but survived with the woman of his dreams. Zooey Deschanel is extremely feisty as dream girl Trillian, who totally digs the events guiding her life. Deschanel makes us believe that Trillian isn’t so extreme she can’t appreciate Dent’ s affections.

As the brother from another planet, Mos Def is built Ford tough, a great character with a terrific sense of timing. Hiding under long, flowing locks of blonde hair and behind pearl’ s so white they generate heat, Sam Rockwell is the cock of the walk as the dashing Beeblebrox, who gives the term being two-faced new meaning. John Malkovich adds to his collection of oddball characters playing the mysterious Humma Kavula, part man-part machine and one-hundred-percent madman.

A lot of care and detail went into bringing Adams’ novel to the screen, and even though it’s not definitive, there are enough fleeting glimpses of brilliance to make this Guide worth a look. Don’t forget your towel.

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Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy

Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel, Bill Nighy, Warwick Davis, John Malkovich, voices of Alan Rickman, Helen Mirren, Stephen Fry. Directed by Garth Jennings. Rated PG. 110 Minutes.

Larsen Rating: $6.00

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