Review: Strange Wilderness

A comedic hangnail from 2006 left to rot on the release shelf, "Strange Wilderness" (IMDb listing) finally sees the light of day on Super Bowl weekend, where the ideal demographic for the film will be off partying and celebrating the big game. Trust me, they won't be missing much.

Trying to keep his father's dream of a televised animal program afloat, Peter (Steve Zahn) is failing to maintain the show's success, which has plummeted in the ratings. Faced with cancellation, Peter comes across a map to the home of Bigfoot. Seizing this opportunity, Peter and his crew (Justin Long, Ashley Scott, Peter Dante, Jonah Hill, Kevin Heffernan, and Allan Covert) race to the wilds of South America to find Bigfoot, filming their substantial misadventures along the way.

"Wilderness" is a perfect DVD presentation that was unfortunate enough to have a theatrical release clause in its contract. It's a stoner comedy created with supreme lowball intentions by Adam Sandler's production company Happy Madison and writer/director Fred Wolf, a former SNL legend now spending his days writing forgettable movies ("Without a Paddle," "Joe Dirt").

"Wilderness" is so one-dimensional, it's alarming. It's not so much a story, but a series of pot-clouded scenes scribbled down on toilet paper right before shooting. I can't quite figure out what Wolf was aiming for with "Wilderness," which gives the impression of a farcical breeze, yet the picture spends a lot of energy on gross-out gags and predictable non sequiturs. In better hands, "Wilderness" would've become another Sandler-approved dorm staple. Under Wolf's command, the funny parts have to fight for their life to be enjoyed.

Of course, if you find bong hits, joy buzzers, and turkey fellatio hilarious, then perhaps sterilization is in order. Wolf pushes hard on cringingly unfunny ideas â€" an extended oral sex joke with the aforementioned turkey is a great example. Much like his writing, Wolf's direction has no throttle, careening back and forth between pleasingly goofy comedy nuggets and aggressively inane material best left on the cutting room floor. Of course, if that blessed event occurred here, "Wilderness" would be about 20 minutes long. But those 20 minutes are funny, due to the casting of lovable fools (Hill, Dante, and Long) who seem to be enjoying themselves on a film set devoid of boundaries.

Putting Steve Zahn at the head of "Wilderness" is Wolf's most clearly defined entertainment obstruction. Trying on his best Bobcat Goldthwait impression, Zahn is a tiresome gasbag of unfunny (a point made well in previous efforts), running around like someone tossed an ice cube down the back of his shirt. It's a crime so much of the picture relies on his convulsive clenched delivery for giggles. "Strange Wilderness" isn't offensively bad, but it's a misfire from the typically reliable house of Sandler; a film best appreciated under heavy sedation and within close proximity of the fast-forward button.

Filmfodder Grade: D+