Disclaimer: I’m not familiar with Douglas Adams’ work. Never heard the original “Hitchiker’s Guide” radio show, never read any of the books, didn’t see the BBC miniseries, nothing. Hence, diehard Adams fans should not panic and take my review with some peanuts (you’re gonna need the salt).
Arthur Dent (The Office’s Martin Freeman) is an ordinary English man who wakes up one morning feeling pretty wretched. The previous night, he went to a costumed party and met the absolutely adorable Trillian (the absolutely adorable Zooey Deschanel). She offered him to go away to Madagascar with her, but he chickened out so she took off with some pompous asshole. Arthur blew it. It’s not the end of the world, but – wait, it is the end of the world. Despite repeated warnings from the dolphins (“So long and thanks for all the fish!”), mankind is unaware that Earth is about to be blown up to make way for a hyperspace expressway.
Luckily for Arthur, his best friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def) turns out to be an extra-terrestrial hitchhiker who is able to get them aboard one of the demolition ships before it’s too late. Thus begins a not-so-amazing adventure across the universe. Prefect and Dent soon hitch another ride on a stolen spaceship where they run into Trillian and the pompous asshole who stole her away, who just happens to be President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell). The four of them will spend the rest of the movie on an “infinite improbability drive” all over the galaxy, hoping to find the “Ultimate Question” before the Vogon bureaucracy catches up to them.
This isn’t much of a plot, but it’s really only an excuse for a long series of silly asides. While I found the film sporadically fun, I can’t say that I “get it”. I can see why this mix of science-fiction, satire, existentialism and plain absurdity would appeal to some, but it didn’t add up to much for me. I enjoyed some of the details, like how Martin Freeman spends the whole movie in a bathrobe with the look of a guy who hasn’t quite woken up yet, the weird-ass aliens designed by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, how Sam Rockwell sometimes seems to be impersonating George W. Bush, or every appearance by Marvin, the manic-depressive Paranoid Android voiced by Alan Rickman.
Other bits, alas, did nothing for me, and I ended up being baffled as often as I was amused. It feels like music video director Garth Jennings, making his feature debut, wants to deliver a mainstream big budget special effects extravaganza and a cult oddity at the same time, which doesn’t’ work out so well. Maybe fans of Douglas Adams will find more to sink their teeth into.