Monday, February 04, 2008

REVIEW: Strange Wilderness (2008)

Here's a low-budget stoner comedy that plays out like it's being made up on the fly (or at least following a very brief "brainstorming" session among producer Adam Sandler's "Happy Madison" entourage - the membership of which makes up the bulk of the speaking cast) and betting the farm on the considerable likability of Steve Zahn. Turns out it's not that bad of a bet.

"Strange Wilderness" is a nearly-plotless, slapdash, cheap-looking, lazily-paced, amatuerish collection of random, improv-style sketches... but approached on those terms - or, rather, the terms of similarly-scattershot goofery like "Robot Chicken" or Andy Samberg's "SNL Digital Shorts" - it's almost embarassingly hysterical. The folks making it obviously had a good time, and so long as the film kept leaving that vibe lying around for the cameras to find (about 89% of the film features the cast sitting around in various chemically-altered states engaged in stream-of-conciousness nonsense "discussions," which seems like a fair hypothesis of how the actual film-MAKING occured) I was right there with them.

The story, so to speak, goes like this: Peter Gaulke (Steve Zahn, the character is named for one of the film's writers) is the host of "Strange Wilderness," a TV nature-show he inherited (along with hosting-duties) from his famous, recently-deceased father. Peter, who isn't all that bright even before he gets stoned - which is frequently - possesses neither his father's TV-production skills, nor does he know the first thing about animals or nature (sample narration: "Over a million salmon are killed by bears every year. However, attacks on bears by salmon are much more rare.") and the show is about to be cancelled. Peter, however, feels he can save it by taking his skeleton-crew of fellow drug-addled dolts on a last-ditch trip to Ecuador... where an old friend of his father's claims to have a map to the lair of Bigfoot.

That's pretty much it. Allen Colvert, Justin Long, Jonah Goldberg, Kevin Heffernan, Peter Dante and Ashley Scott all join Zahn for what amounts to 90-or-so minutes of funny people wandering around the "jungles" of Southern California waxing nonsensically and engaging in infrequent bouts of random drug-fueled slapstick; stopping occasionally to run Gaulke's moronic narrations over animal footage ("Monkey's make up over 80% of the world's monkey population," "sharks are only found in two places on Earth: The Northern Hemisphere, and the Southern Hemisphere.") Ernest Borgnine, (!!!) Robert Patrick, Joe Don Baker, Harry Hamlin and Blake Clark turn up in increasingly bizzare cameos, culminating in one of the most absurd third acts I can remember seeing in any film, comedy or otherwise.

In a scene that can tell you more-or-less everything you need to know about the film, at one point Peter's poor choice of outdoor lavatories leads to him getting his penis bitten by an enraged turkey, which leads to hospitalization when said penis becomes stuck in the bird's throat (an X-Ray helpfully illustrates the problem,) which leads to an impromptu brainstorm among doctors and buddies about how to extricate it once the presence of an attractive nurse, er... "complicates" the situation. In another, the film stops cold to continuously replay the same shot of a long-toothed shark swimming by the camera while Zahn and friends repeatedly "dub" an inexplicably-amusing goober-voiced laugh for the creature.

It's the silliest, dopiest, most infantile form of screen comedy... but I laughed as though I was getting a contact-high off the cast. Hard to believe, but I'm gonna say reccomended on this one.