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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Whenever a studio doesn’t screen a movie for critics in advance, I try to run out and see it on opening day, then post a review as quickly as possible. You, the reader, have a right to at least get an idea of how good or bad a film is before you pay your hard-earned cash to see it. Now, I’ve been doing this for years, and I’ve come to accept that most of these pictures are pretty bad. After all, there’s a reason the studios are hiding them from us. But once in a while, I actually hold out some hope for quality. Strange Wilderness was one of those occasions. The film stars a lot of people who usually make me laugh: Steve Zahn, Superbad’s Jonah Hill, Accepted’s Justin Long, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star Jeff Garlin, and Broken Lizard member Kevin Heffernan.

That’s a lot of funny people getting together to make one unspeakably bad movie.

Zahn plays Peter Gaulke, the host of a poorly-produced, low-rated wildlife show. His late father was apparently one of the greats in the nature documentary field, but Peter has not been able to successfully take over the show. A network big shot (Garlin) tells him that the program is being pulled off the airwaves. Shortly thereafter, Peter is approached by an old friend who possesses a map and photographic evidence that Bigfoot exists. Figuring he can get back on the airwaves if he scores a coup, Peter gathers up his motley camera crew and heads into the wilderness to find the mythical Sasquatch.

Unfortunately, the others are perpetual screw-ups and, for that matter, walking clichés. They include a stoner (Long), a ladies undergarment-wearing hick (Hill), an “animal handler” (Heffernan), and a generic hot girl (Ashley Scott) for the guys to lust after. Their quest to find Bigfoot leads them not to adventure but to one dull, uninspired genitalia joke after another. Seriously, if I had a dime for every penis joke in this movie, I could buy the whole multiplex. The comedic low point involves one character getting bitten on his member by a turkey. Oh, how my sides hurt with laughter.

There’s a funny comedy to be made spoofing shows like “Wild Kingdom” and “The Crocodile Hunter.” It’s somewhat astounding, then, that Strange Wilderness doesn’t even try. Watching Steve Zahn and Jonah Hill tussle with wild animals ought to be a laugh riot; why, then, are there no actual scenes where the characters come face-to-face with any creatures?

Big chunks of Strange Wilderness are spent showing grainy stock footage of animals while Zahn’s character provides silly voiceover narration. That’s actually not a bad idea for a short comedy show sketch, but it feels like filler in a motion picture. One gets the very strong impression that Strange Wilderness came into being because some friends sat around getting high, watching Animal Planet with the sound turned down, and creating their own only-funny-if-you’re-wasted commentary.

The film was produced by Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production comedy, and its cast includes Allen Covert and Peter Dante, the stars of another lame HM comedy, Grandma’s Boys. Covert and Dante are two guys who aren’t funny, can’t act, and only get to be in movies because they’re friends with Adam Sandler. (It’s no surprise that you never see them outside a Sandler-produced film.) The director is Fred Wolf, another Sandler crony who also penned Joe Dirt and Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. (His resume makes the current writers strike seem like a good thing.) Wolf’s co-writer is, get this, Peter Gaulke. That’s right – the film’s writer gave the main character his own name. That might be funny to the Happy Madison gang, but it holds no humor whatsoever for us in the audience.

In addition to all that, I noticed a lot of weird continuity errors that suggest one of two things: either no one cared about coherence, or the film was edited by a maniac. Consider the scene where we learn that Long’s stoner character has had eyeballs tattooed on his eyelids so that he will look like he’s awake, even when he’s asleep. In the very next scene – and for the remainder of the film – the tattoos are gone. So what, did he have spontaneous laser removal surgery? Maybe it sounds like I’m nitpicking here, but this is the kind of thing you start thinking about when the movie unspooling in front of you holds no appeal whatsoever.

Let’s wrap this sucker up, shall we? I’ll put things in perspective based on the Happy Madison body of work. Strange Wilderness is so wretched that it makes The Benchwarmers look like Bull Durham, Grandma’s Boy look like The Graduate, and Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo look like Midnight Cowboy.

( out of four)

Strange Wilderness is rated R for non-stop language, drug use, crude and sexual humor. The running time is 1 hour and 27 minutes.

To learn more about this film, check out Strange Wilderness

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