Strange Wilderness (2008) — Maybe getting back to nature isn’t a good idea, after all

“No matter how many sea lions are killed each year by sharks, it never seems like enough.”

Justin’s rating: Making Adam Sandler look like a savant since 2008

Justin’s review: My mother is notorious for being a stupid movie snob. If she catches even a whiff that a movie might contain (1) silliness, (2) goofy noises, (3) sophomoric humor, (4) pratfalls, (5) slapstick comedy, or (6) Rob Schneider, she’ll instantly label it a “Fart Movie” and rain ire and scorn upon it unseen. She then had a firstborn who absolutely delighted in silliness, goofy noises, sophomoric humor, pratfalls, slapstick, and the occasional dose of the Honorable Schneider, so I’m sure that on some level, I’m a grave disappointment.

I have tried to grow up and watch Oscar-worthy dramas with serious people giving serious speeches while wearing faces that may never have smiled in their entire lives. But I can’t help going back to fart movies every so often. I need the laughs, and I don’t care if it takes a monkey posterior or a dorky shark face to get them.

That brought me to Strange Wilderness, one of Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison productions. Pretty much obliterated from theaters at release, this stoner comedy built up a bit of a cult following in the past 14 years. It’s certainly not a smart film in any sense, but the pairing of idiot slackers and unruly animals has potential.

Steve Zahn plays Peter, a guy who inherited his father’s nature show on TV while not being all that qualified to run and star in it. The rest of his crew — including Jonah Hill, Justin Long, Ashley Scott, Ernest Borgnine, Kevin Heffernan,  and Alex Covert — are all incompetent and hapless in some way. It hasn’t really stopped them from trying to capture nature’s ineffable mystery and then slathering the footage with idiotic and patently false voiceovers, though.

With ratings dropping, the network furious over their irresponsible behavior, and a rival nature show signing contracts, the days of Strange Wilderness are numbered. That is, of course, unless the crew can pull off the amazing feat of capturing footage of Bigfoot. In South America. So into a shabby RV they go, filming along the way and taking stabs at comedy with the kind of desperation that you only see at NASCAR races when the girls with the free t-shirt cannons come out.

There’s absolutely no plot at work past this point. It’s just random scenes of the crew working their way to their destination and handling all sorts of improbable scenarios along the way. You know, shark attacks, turkey attacks, nitrous oxide raves, overzealous border agents, and so on.

Easily the best part are the nature documentary moments, which are obviously real show footage that receive demented voiceovers. It’s too bad that they’re rather infrequent in this film’s rather short runtime.

Sometimes — once-in-a-while sometimes — it’s funny enough to elicit a true laugh. With this crew of comedians, that’s to be expected. But you’d also expect a whole lot more, too. Adam Sandler’s comedies could be pretty erratic in the laugh department, but at least they contained more than Strange Wilderness boasts.

Far too many scenes here see jokes flatlining — or lack them entirely. Filling up the rest of the space is a variety of crudity that, again, isn’t funny but exists even so. Strange Wilderness absolutely squanders its premise and creates a movie that is best viewed as a YouTube highlights reel. Sometimes, my friend, even fart movies aren’t worth seeing.

Didja notice?

  • So many helpful facts about bears
  • “Attacks by salmon on bears is much more rare.”
  • “Smokey the Bear says PUT OUT THE BONG.”
  • Fewer people have been killed by bears than in World War I and World War II combined
  • The clip of the jeep spewing litter everywhere
  • The eye tattoos on the eyelids
  • “Why don’t you go make a blues album?”
  • “This oil looks a little thick. Maybe I should add some water.” “Sure.”
  • Sea lion costumes are bad idea when sharks are around
  • Sea lions often get caught between sharks and tigers
  • He DOES look like Super Mario Bros
  • The nitrous rave
  • Turkeys don’t like it when you pee near their young
  • Hey it’s random Robert Patrick cameo
  • “Is that a thong you’re wearing?”
  • If a piranha eats your friend, you eat the fish for revenge. And now you’re a cannibal.

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