Movie: Strange Wilderness
Attendance: about 20
Weather: snow flurries
Food: Coke from video store, Reese Bites from Wal-Mart (they sell larger bags).
Expectations met?: exceeded
Pre-show Ads: a bunch of infotainment from CityTV and CBC; University of New Brunswick; Saturn
* Charlie Bartlett – Rushmore meets Mumford in this tale of a private school kids who uses his family therapist’s advice to set up his own covert psychiatry practise in the bathroom of a public school. Meh.
* The Bank Job – Jason Statham in a period pic supposedly based on a true story about a bank robbery staged to retrieve embarassing photos of a member of the royal family. Has a certain Guy Ritchieness about it. Gut feeling says “avoid if possible.”
* Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay – John Cho, Kal Penn, guys from The Daily Show, and Neil Patrick Harris? Obviously, I’m there.
I was reading an interview this week with Michael Showalter, cowriter and star of The State, Stella, and the “stupid-smart” cult classic Wet Hot American Summer, among other things. He spoke about how the public appetite for comedy evolves in a very broad way over time, embracing one style after another as the mainstream. For example, it was not so long ago that The Farrelly Brothers and Tom Green were the hottest things in comedy; now it is Judd Apatow’s mixture of absurdity and vulnerability showcased so well in The Forty Year Old Virgin or Knocked Up.
Watching Strange Wilderness is like finding a time capsule of comedy that is just out of step with what is happening now; it’s like the script was written on some distant star that is just now receiving the broadcasts of Adam Sandler’s years on Saturday Night Live. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because the jokes are still there and they still work; we’re just not laughing at them for the same reason that we might have otherwise.
The plot of this film is pretty standard: a group of lovable losers need to achieve a seemingly impossible task or the glue that holds their group together will be taken away. In this case, it’s a wilderness show hosted by Peter Gaulke (Steve Zahn), whose father was the original (and much more competent) host. Threatened with cancellation for low ratings against a more polished show hosted by Harry Hamlin, Peter is ready to throw in the towel until his dad’s former partner (Joe Don Baker) shows him photos of Bigfoot- and offers to give him a map to find the creature in South America.
So, what we have after a bit of a slow start is a road movie, a stoner comedy, Farrelly Brothers-style physical comedy, and a set of oddball supporting characters who are straight out of an early Adam Sandler movie; Canteen Boy would not have been out of place. This throw-everything-at-the-screen-and-see-what-sticks approach can work; it worked for years for the Zucker/Zucker/Abrahams team (Airplane!, etc.) It does not work so well here, especially during the setup, but once the group hit the road, I laughed a lot, and sometimes I was even surprised.
This film is populated almost entirely by supporting actors who have appeared in this kind of cult comedy before, like Justin Long from Dodgeball or Jonah Hill from Superbad; and while Ernest Borgnine, Joe Don Baker and Robert Patrick are ordinarily associated with more prestigious roles, I will always love them for Baseketball, Mitchell, and The Marine. Steve Zahn does himself that dubious service with his performance in this film, a performance which bears no small resemblance to Matt Stone. Zahn may have done fine character work in Out Of Sight, but I will always remember him now for the turkey scene in Strange Wilderness.
This film is very uneven, looks like it was made for about a hundred dollars, and works best when it forgets the few rules it has and just does something weird, like the nitrous scene or the footage of the wilderness show. There are certain comedies that, while far from perfect, are movies I could watch over and over again- and do. For me, those include Wet Hot American Summer, Baseketball, and Going The Distance; for others, it might be Undercover Brother or Half-Baked. For you, it might just be Strange Wilderness. If you get a chance, check it out.
Crowd reaction at the end of the movie: positive
Credit cookie?: no
For further consideration: “Sharks – the assholes of the sea.”
Opening next weekend: Definitely, Maybe; Step Up 2 The Streets; The Spiderwick Chronicles; Jumper; Diary of the Dead
Please god, anything but: Step Up 2 The Streets