Strange Wilderness

Steve Zahn, Jonah Hill, and Justin Long star in a film written by Peter Gaulke and Fred Wolf and directed by Wolf.

Strange Wilderness

Self-respecting intellectuals (and pseudo-intellectuals) may not fess up to it, but there’s a strange, kinda goofy charm to be found in a romp like Strange Wilderness. Check your dignity at the door, and you may find yourself laughing in spite of yourself, sinking into the blissful world of Stupid Cinema, a no-brains-no-headache subdivision of the comedy omniverse. No, the film does not fit into the lucrative “Land of Apatow”-the hormonal/misogynistic capers seen in box office smashes Knocked Up and Superbad-although the cast does include Superbad‘s Jonah Hill. Strange Wilderness is lower than that niche, or at least off to the left of it.

Basically, it’s a mindless satirical take on a ripe target, which surprisingly has remained fairly satire-free throughout the years: the phenom of the wildlife television program. Partymeister Steve Zahn is at the center of the claptrap, as the son of a pioneering wildlife showman with much more skill and dedication than his son has. But hey, it’s a gig, and an excuse to cavort with the animals-including a dubious, dope-loving crew. In the narrative yarn of this film, the crew is headed south, in more ways than one, to pursue Bigfoot’s rumored hangout in the Andes.

Among the more old-school show-biz types lured into the fray, Ernest Borgnine and Joe Don Baker play bit roles, and Waddy Wachtel cooks up a classic-rocking musical score. Some of the best lines are tucked into the scripts of the episodes, as when Zahn says in his best slacker-stoner voice, “Monkeys make up 80 percent of the world’s monkey population,” or “sharks are the assholes of the sea.” Yes, the humor comes to us directly from the more feckless side of frat comedic sensibilities, but it’s also splashed with the liberating stuff of post-Dada absurdity.

You know you’re in shallow cultural waters when you find yourself in convulsive laughter while Zahn does a goofy impression of a bucktoothed shark, but you may not want to admit it in public. Oops, I think I just did.

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