The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Garth Jennings
scr Douglas Adams, Karey Kirkpatrick
with Martin Freeman, Sam Rockwell, Mos Def, Zooey Deschanel, Bill Nighy, John Malkovich, Anna Chancellor, Warwick Davis
voices Stephen Fry, Alan Rickman, Helen Mirren, Richard Griffiths
release UK/US 29.Apr.05
05/UK Touchstone 1h40

Don't panic: Freeman (above); Rockwell, Deschanel, Marvin and Def (below)

rockwell nighy malkovich

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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Four years after his untimely death, Douglas Adams' radio play/books/TV series finally make it to the big screen--with his original screenplay still in here somewhere. The result is raucously enjoyable but also extremely chaotic.

Arthur Dent (Freeman) is a simple Englishman catapulted into an intergalactic adventure when his friend Ford (Def) rescues him just before Earth is destroyed to make way for an interplanetary bypass. They join up with Galactic President Zaphod (Rockwell), earth girl Trillian (Dechanel) and depressed robot Marvin (Davis, with Rickman's voice), bouncing from planet to planet while everyone seeks the answer to life, the universe and everything. If only they knew what the question was.

Director Jennings uses effects cleverly and jams every frame with witty touches. But the editing is far too frenzied; the plot jumps and lurches, and we never get a chance to engage with the characters. The cast is an odd mix, with too many Americans for a purely British story, which adds nothing to the film or its marketing campaign. Freeman has some terrific scenes as Arthur, but is never allowed to fully flesh him out. As planetary designer Slartibartfast, Nighy gives another effortlessly laid-back performance that's probably the best in the film. Fry is perfectly cast as the voice of the Guide. And Def is funny, if you can understand his mumbled dialog. But Rockwell and Deschanel barely register at all--which leaves a big hole where the romantic subplot should be. While Malkovich's camp cameo feels gratuitous and unresolved.

The frantic action keeps us watching, although it's exhausting--like watching a feature-length trailer. It'll work better on repeat viewings. There's a wide range of humour, from a heavy dose of faux Monty Python (the dolphin song, for one) to both subtle irony and manic zaniness. There are only a few scenes that manage to grab us, because they're the only ones allowed to develop (the best is Arthur and Slartibartfast's journey through the warehouse). The film feels like a collection of small, high-energy comedy scenes, and it needs more character moments and set pieces to really grip us. Colourful and diverting, but disappointing.

cert PG themes, language, some suspense 13.Apr.05

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© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall