In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, interspace time travel is little more than extending your thumb and killing time around the universe while the Earth is put back together. There’s not a lot of depth, sophistication or cohesion to the movie, but its wink-wink sense of sly British humor more than succeeds in advancing it past the easygoing giddiness of a kid-friendly sci-fi fantasy.
Based on Douglas Adams’ novel and adapted to the screen by Adams and Karey Kirkpatrick, the film is essentially a two-man show between Mos Def and Sam Rockwell. The rapper-turned-actor stars as an intergalactic traveler with a passion for hitchhiking, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind’s Rockwell plays a moronic president of the galaxy who is less a leader than a grade-A surfer doofus. Along with Zooey Deschanel (All the Real Girls) and Martin Freeman (Shaun of the Dead, Britain’s The Office) they team up and travel the globe with little more than a wandering eye and a desire to avoid the smelly, ugly Vogons who are among the worst poetry readers in the galaxy.
Without ever committing too strongly to a scatterbrained plot about world domination and alien bureaucracy, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is actually enormous entertainment, a fleeting escapist spaceship more concerned with darting us around the universe than really immersing us in planetary conquering and interspecies politics. Rated PG, the film is amped up to a startling level of solar-system hopping over-excitement, where little danger ever hits home for the main characters but where director Garth Jennings (of R.E.M’s “Imitation of Life”) willingly indulges in the audience’s most outrageous tongue-in-cheek sci-fi daydreams.
There are morbidly melancholy robots, dunderheaded space monsters and hyper-advanced technology that toasts bread as it slices it. This is a movie unafraid to be boldly demented and hilariously enjoyable without ever buying into grander themes of universal control or futuristic authority. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is just good, clean fun from which you won’t draw much more than empty-headed entertainment if you’re looking for a movie about more than just hitching a ride on the closest overhead vessel.
Its manic, good-time environment is brought to life by people more committed to throwaway TV sci-fi entertainment than transcendent cinematic far-out futurism, which takes on more of a passive European humor than a persistent intellectual appeal. The love story between Freeman and Deschanel is barely there and Rockwell is only for comic relief, but the greatest limitation and most freewheeling casualness about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is how simplistic its approach to modern distraction is.
While it’s based on a book, there’s hardly a movie here, just a diverting tour through the galaxy in which characters are quicker to find hobbies and temporary pleasure than a real planetary policy. It’s wackiness for the ADD crowd, audiences that are content to check their minds at the door and sit through two hours that lift you off of Earth’s surface but never into an alternate scientific universe. Quite simply, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a full-fledged goofball of a movie, a source of amusing glee with less intent to jumble your brain than just mix up your signals-and your plot detection-for a while. It’s sure to take your imagination to infinity and beyond without ever capturing your heart.