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STRANGE WILDERNESS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Steve Zahn, Allen Covert, Jonah Hill, Kevin Heffernan, Ashley Scott, Peter Dante, Harry Hamlin, Robert Patrick, Joe Don Baker, Justin Long, Ernest Borgnine
Director: Fred Wolf
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 84 Minutes
Release Date: May 20, 2008

“You like your name? You like DICK?”

Film **1/2

Strange Wilderness is one of the funnier one-dimensional comedies I’ve ever seen. But it’s still one-dimensional, which keeps it from being an entirely successful comedy. However, I will give this one a great deal of credit for having a good number of laughs, all of which will be appreciated only by those who admire pure dumb comedy.

If you saw Grandma’s Boy, the stoner comedy involving employees at a video game company, this is pretty much the same movie, only this one involves the film crew of a nature show. Both movies come from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison productions. So what we can conclude here is that every two years we will get a new stoner comedy from Sandler and company.

Peter Gaulke (Steve Zahn) is the host of the nature show “Strange Wilderness”, which is in danger of being cancelled. He is actually a slacker who knows very little about nature. He has the hosting job mainly because it was handed down to him after the death of his father, the creator and original host of the show.

The stoner antics of Peter and his film crew of idiots has led to some crazy footage, including a bloody alligator attack and a man on fire at a peace rally, has led to poor ratings and the promise of cancellation in two weeks. But as luck would have it, Peter manages to get information about the possible location of Bigfoot, which could very much save the show.

The laughs in Strange Wilderness aren’t entirely frequent, and not all the jokes are successful. But when the movie managed to score a funny moment, I found myself laughing long and hard. Yes, those are possibly the best two adjectives to describe the laughs in a movie like this.

The hilarious bits include Peter being attacked by a turkey…while taking a leak in the woods (yes, that area), which is proceeded by an even funnier scene at the doctor’s office. I also laughed at a sight gag involving missing front teeth after Peter and his soundman Fred (Allen Covert) get into a scuffle with a gang member.

And much to my surprise, this movie managed to make me howl with laughter at what has to be its cheapest moment; characters cracking jokes at a character simply named Dick, like Cher but Dick. How low is my taste in humor, you ask? I actually replayed this scene twice because I couldn’t stop laughing. I know, I’m a sad individual.

But as funny as those parts are, I kept thinking to myself how funnier the movie could be had it followed through in certain areas. The best example is Harry Hamlin who plays the host of a competing nature show. He has a dead-on introduction, which leaves you thinking this character is going to be a funny slimy character, and the movie never comes back to him until the character’s demise. How disappointing.

The cast here does bring a lot to the table, and they help elevate this material quite a bit. Steve Zahn is one of those guys who can take any sentence and make it sound funny, and he does that here frequently. Allen Covert, who’s been in nearly every Adam Sandler movie, also provides some hilarious moments. And Kevin Heffernan, from Super Troopers and Beerfest, has the movie’s best lines as Whitaker, the crew’s animal handler and recovering alcoholic.

The only weak link in the cast is Jonah Hill, who seriously needs to be reminded that less is more. He plays a crewmember named Cooker, and somehow he felt the need to give the character an irritating loud voice, and the result is like fingernails on a chalkboard. I also criticized Hill’s overacting in Superbad, and if you remember the one scene he had in The 40 Year Old Virgin, you know he can be hilarious when underplaying a role.

So Strange Wilderness is very much a mixed bag. As far as stoner comedies go, well hey, it’s simply hard to top the Harold and Kumar movies. The funny bits in the movie, which are really funny, almost made me go half a star up on the rating. In the end, however, I came to realize that there weren’t enough funny moments. But for a one-dimensional comedy, it’s certainly a lot better than average.

Video ***1/2

This release from Paramount boasts quite a mighty looking picture. Despite a slight hint or two of grain, the anamorphic image delivers some most impressive detail, not to mention tremendous colors. Most of the movie takes place in outdoor settings, resulting in a consistently bright and colorful image.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 manages to add quite a bit to this comedy. The many physical pratfalls are captured incredibly well, and the soundtrack provides some truly good playback. And the main setting of the outdoors allows for surrounding sounds to pop up all around. Quite a surprise.

Features **1/2

Included on this disc are thirteen Deleted Scenes, three featurettes; “The Turkey”, “What Do We Do?” and “Reel Comedy: Strange Wilderness”, and “Cooker’s Song”, which is basically the filming of Jonah Hill singing a song that’s in the movie.

Summary:

I haven’t been so mixed on a movie in such a long time, because Strange Wilderness surprised me in that whenever I expected the movie to start getting bad, it got insanely funny. So I’m not saying skip it, because you co do a whole lot worse, just set your expectations low and enjoy.

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