One Pan-Galactic Gargleblaster, on the rocks.
Garth Jennings’ film adaptation of the Douglas Adams cult book series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – which had been famously stuck in Development Hell for years – certainly gets the oddball, deadpan details right, whether it’s an explanation of Babel Fish’s amazing powers; encounters with the bureaucratic, bad-poet Vorgons; or a hunt for the question to Life, the Universe, and Everything that’s mysteriously answered by Deep Thought with “42.” If you have any idea at all what I’m taking about, then you may well find some pleasure in this film. The books themselves are quite hilarious, mixing social satire and absurd humor with some fairly sophisticated philosophical musings (heavy themes hidden inside gadgets and aliens being the bread and butter of any good science fiction). But in the end the movie never hits its stride because for all of the inspired little touches, it fails miserably to deliver on more important cinematic necessities. For one thing, the characters – with the possible exception of a spunky Zooey Deschanel as Trillian – are disappointingly flat. Protagonist Arthur’s transformation from homebody to galactic explorer seems like an afterthought and he seems too dull to ever attract someone as interesting as Trillian. Worse, the plot is extremely sketchy. It’s all got something to do with Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell, trying too hard) hoping to cash in on finding the aforementioned “42” question, but that mission is explained in some brief throwaway dialogue that could be easily missed if you’re crunching on popcorn at the wrong moment. And the steps Zaphod takes to find the question, dragging Arthur along for the ride, don’t make a whole lot of sense. It's all very random, which suggests that the filmmakers were interested more in finding ways to string together the funny scenes and quirky bits from the books (bonus points for turning the “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish” dolphin message into a song) than in creating an organic, stand-alone whole. Mostly harmless, but it could have been so much better.