Directed by Fred Wolf
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 84 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: May 20, 2008
Review Date: May 6, 2008
It takes something more to make a hit comedy film than putting a handful of talented actors in a location and turning on the camera. You also need a well crafted script that features characters with some substance. You need a director who can work with the actors to time jokes precisely and move them from set-up to set-up with some semblance of coherence and connection. Sadly, that’s what you don’t get in Fred Wolf’s lame comedy Strange Wilderness. Witless, inept, and pathetic, the film wastes a talented cast stranded in a comedic wasteland with no hope and seemingly no escape. Like most wildernesses, this film comedy is equally barren.
The talented Steve Zahn plays Peter Gaulke, son of a legendary TV nature show host who has inherited his father’s show Strange Wilderness without his father’s knowledge or experience in the wild. With his show now relegated to a 3 a.m. timeslot (and sinking in the ratings even with infomercial competition), Gaulke has two weeks to deliver an episode that will interest his boss enough to keep the show on the air. He hears from explorer Bill Calhoun (Joe Don Baker in one several star cameos in the film) that he’s tracked Bigfoot to South America, but that a map that will lead our hero to his prize will cost $1,000. So, Gaulke and his team scrounge up the money and set off on a road trip. It doesn’t help that the aggregate sum of their I.Q.’s wouldn’t hit triple digits nor that they spend the days meandering in a haze of reefer smoke. The stoners stumble from one disastrous encounter (a car of Latino gangsters demand a payoff) to another (a wild turkey gobbles down Gaulke’s genitals) with nary a laugh in sight. True, I did crack a smile during their incompetent interviews for a road manager, but for the rest, I sat stone-faced as the hapless actors stumbled and bumbled through the nonsensical scenes trying so hard to make something funny out of something flimsy. Perhaps a different kind of stoned might be a requirement to find anything of consequence happening here.
Steve Zahn has enlivened many a film with his easy-going charm, but he’s asked here to carry the entire screwy movie without decent help from a script or the director, and he’s reduced to screaming and cursing to attempt to make the comedy work. It doesn’t help. Actors like Jonah Hill and Justin Long who have scored well in recent films are improvising their hearts out to save their scenes here, but it’s completely uninspired. And paychecks must have been the only incentive for stars like Ernest Borgnine, Harry Hamlin, and Robert Patrick to lend their presences to one or two scenes each in the movie. They’re given nothing of consequence to play.
How interesting that the writers of the film, Peter Gaulke and director Fred Wolf, have named the two lead characters (Zahn and Allen Covert playing the sound man on the shoot) after themselves. The idea for the inept nature documentarian came from a Saturday Night Live sketch of a decade ago, but perhaps that’s where the idea should have stayed since the two writers have done nothing remotely amusing with it in Strange Wilderness. And Wolf’s direction is rather hapless, too, often staging shots with awkward framing or even activity happening partially out of frame. Continuity, of course, is inept as well. A sight gag with tattoos on Justin Long’s eyelids is dropped after the film has run for a bit. Other injuries get quick fixes and are dispensed with quickly as well.
The strangest thing about Strange Wilderness is how it ever got greenlit for production. Yes, Adam Sandler’s production company’s name in the credits partially answers the question, but even his above average track record at the box-office shouldn’t have been enough of a reason for this film to ever have seen the light of day.
The anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1 picture is erratic in quality. While flesh tones are good and color is well saturated, sharpness varies throughout the movie. Often appearing slightly out of focus, the image quality is variable. Blacks can be deep, but details are often lost in the shadows. The film is divided into 11 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track occasionally has a strong sound mix, especially in jungle scenes late in the picture where discreet effects, a thundering rainstorm, and other jungle sounds make excellent use of the available channels. Elsewhere, though, the film goes silent in the surrounds and focuses on the front soundstage alone.
“Cooker’s Song” shows the tremendous amount of improvisation the actors were expected to perform for the movie. This anamorphic 5 ¾-minute behind-the-scenes look at actor Jonah Hill trying to make up a comedy song on the spot while Justin Long feigns a drug-induced stupor is especially revealing of the actors at sea trying to find comic gold where none exists.
“The Turkey” shows us the preparation for the turkey gag sequences in the picture with creature FX expert Robert Hall explaining what they’re doing. Again, the actors (and Steve Zahn in particular) are forced to ad-lib dialogue to fit the outrageousness of the moment, much to their embarrassment. This anamorphic featurette runs 6 ¾ minutes.
“What Do We Do?” shows more improvisation in the conference room scene, again with the actors straining mightily for any semblance of a comic notion. This anamorphic excerpt runs 6 minutes.
“Reel Comedy: Strange Wilderness” is the 21 ¼-minute episode from the Comedy Central series publicizing the release of the film. Featuring the actors talking about making the movie and showing (letterboxed) clips from the film, the 4:3 program makes the movie seem like it might be a lot more fun than it actually is.
13 deleted scenes are included in the bonus features (though some are actually extensions of scenes that actually made it into the movie). The viewer can watch the scenes individually or watch them all in a 22-minute chunk. The cut scenes here from the interview sequence in the movie might have made the film’s one funny sequence even funnier. Otherwise, all of the items cut were better off being deleted.
Previews of the upcoming theatrical and DVD releases Drillbit Taylor and The Love Guru are offered for viewing.
Sad to say, Strange Wilderness is one of the least effective comedies seen in quite some time. Though others may disagree, I found very little to like here.