The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Strange Wilderness

I love a good stupid movie just like everybody else. But like anything, there's dumb, dumbest, stupid, stupidest, and mind-bogglingly stupid, the kind of stupid that makes your head hurt to watch it. The jury is still out for 2008's Strange Wilderness and where that one ends up.

When his father dies, Peter (Steve Zahn) steps in and takes over his long-running, very successful nature show, 'Strange Wilderness'....and promptly drives it into the ground. The quality drops, the educational aspect plummets, and the show is on the brink of being canceled. Peter, soundman Fred (Allen Covert), and Wilderness's ragtag crew have only two weeks to turn the show around, but how can they manage that? A story falls right into their lap, but first they've got to find it. Bigfoot has been sighted in Central America! Let the road trip begin.

Should I be surprised that this 2008 stoner comedy came from the brilliant minds of Happy Madison Productions, Adam Sandler's film company? I suppose not, but it sure does help make sense of this mess of a movie. Excluding the closing credits, it doesn't even hit the 80-minute mark. The "story" is a sham of a script held together by bathroom humor, awful physical comedy, and a reliance on anything crotch-related or even close, one running gag after another. At one point, Zahn's character actually has a turkey attack him, the animal attempting to swallow his penis. Yes, the scene of Zahn running around hysterically is funny, but I can't think of a stupider, low-brow type of humor. Repeat that for 79 minutes and you've got your movie. One scene has the crew giggling away because a man's name is 'Dick.' That's all. No last name. Watch it HERE. For every funny moment, there's an excruciating one close behind.

The odd thing? The parts that do work are very funny. The disgusted TV producer (Jeff Garlin) goes through a quick succession of clips from previous shows, and the complete random quality of the clips produces some quality laughs. They include lions having sex with a sexually-themed voiceover, giraffes head-butting each other, an alligator eating a man ("We wanted to honor him"), a man at a peace rally on running around on fire, and so on. Any actual Strange Wilderness footage is hysterical from a shark episode (watch HERE) to a bear episode (watch HERE) with portions devoted to beavers, piranhas, and monkeys among other. Zahn's calming, almost monotone voice nails the voiceovers. These parts are so mind-bogglingly stupid it makes me think someone with talent wrote them. They're that stupid, but go figure, they're funny too. Their discovery of Bigfoot, their encounter with him, and the rationalization of how they handled that encounter is priceless too.

Going for the stupid and not smart laughs, the cast is hit-or-miss. Zahn is a decent lead, hamming it up like a crazy person as needed, longtime Sandler co-star Covert a worthy straight man with his long hair and floppy mustache. Rounding out the 'Wilderness' crew are Jonah Hill as Cooker, the freaky conspiracy theorist, Kevin Heffernan as Whitaker, the alcoholic mechanic turned animal handler, Justin Long as Junior, the stoner cameraman, Ashley Scott as Cheryl, the necessary babe, and Peter Dante as Danny, the idiot. That's all. He's an idiot. Hill is funny when he's subtle, not like here where he's so over-exaggerated he becomes obnoxious. Heffernan is very funny, Long leaves little impression, Scott looks good, and Dante is the worst offender of the bunch, playing the same part he does in all the Happy Madison movies. His best bit? A dark but truly funny bit where he dresses up like a sea lion and is promptly attacked by a shark.

In some bizarre casting, watch for Ernest Borgnine, Joe Don Baker and Robert Patrick in small parts. You read that right, all three names. How they took these parts I'll never know. None of them are given anything to do -- short of a disgusting sight gag Patrick gets -- but all three are professionals and do their job. It's especially cool to see Borgnine (91 years old at the time) in the movie, introducing himself to a new generation of moviegoers.

You don't go into a movie like this thinking you will be watching a masterpiece. I realize that, but this is one screwy movie. The funny part? As they made the movie, they know it was screwy. It ends with Zahn, Covert and Garlin laughing out loud at the ridiculous nature of the story....and that's the ending. No gag reel. That's the ending. Epically stupid, good for some laughs, but too stupid for its own good at other times.

Strange Wilderness <---trailer (2008): **/**** 

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