If ever a movie came equipped with a built-in "thumbs up," it's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It only takes about five minutes of screen time before our average joe hero, Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman), gets whisked away with from his disappointing life by an interstellar hitchhiker (Mos Def) and launched into close encounters of the ridiculous kind.

Director Garth Jennings' kaleidoscopic film is jam-packed with special effects, both of the cutting-edge digital variety and of the old-fashioned Jim Henson Creature Shop variety (wait until you meet the brilliantly grotesque bureaucrats called the Vogons), resulting in a sensational visual experience that is also populated with the liveliest, most comical sci-fi misfits since Galaxy Quest. There are laughs aplenty, many of them provoked by Stephen Fry, who plays the voice of the infamously handy pocket guide to space travel, and the smirking spontaneity of Sam Rockwell as the fashion-challenged President of the Galaxy.

But unlike Galaxy Quest, which became an audience favorite on the strength of its story as much as its stars and effects, Hitchhiker's feels more like a long, disjointed string of skits linked by awkward transitions. Things move so erratically and quickly that there's little chance to appreciate performances, identify themes, or care about the rather arbitrary plot.

But don't panic: As entertainment, the movie is "mostly harmless." It's never ponderous, and it never arrives at a "moral to the story." Occasional flashes of comic brilliance and high-spirited frivolity give us something of a sugar-rush. Ultimately, however, the emptiness at the film's core makes it a rather hollow moviegoing experience.

My full review is at Looking Closer.

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