“Strange Wilderness” is not a good film. It’s just a surprisingly funny one.
Cheap-looking and slap-dashed, the overall feel of this movie is that it was made lazily. But that doesn’t matter. Like the best and most efficient sketch comedy, this is a truly bizarre exercise in absurdist comedy that works a lot better than it should. This is about Peter Gaulke (Steve Zahn, “Sahara”), the secondary host of “Strange Wilderness,” and his crew of likeable dumbasses.
Gaulke inherited the show, a low-rated program about wildlife, from his father. Now it’s being threatened with cancellation, but for good reason. This is by far the crappiest thing on television, even for the three-in-the-morning slot.
Before Gaulke’s piece on “pygmy” people, he hops out of an SUV with loads of garbage to dispose of in the environment. He can’t afford to research topless “Bush” women, so he just throws some hay skirts on some Long Beach girls. Gaulke even airs a man being eaten by a crocodile because “people might watch it.” They need something consequential, or else.
This is where the journey to find Bigfoot is born. Not that it ultimately matters because the quest merely acts as a loose outline for the “Strange” guys to do strange shit. Mixing road, stoner and just plain weird comedy, the movie lives up to its title, and that’s a good thing.
Penis gags are met with fowl-mouthed ranting and raving. Hospital visits are the norm, for both creature and human related injury. Bong hits and animal abuse interrupt filming – not that it makes a difference since these fools have no idea what they’re talking about anyway. Relentlessly violent, trippy or just plain perverse, “Strange” is an odd look at nature.
First and foremost, this film is helped by its diverse comic pedigree. The well-respected Ernest Borgnine (Best Picture winner “Marty”) cameos, in what’s probably his first utterance of pot talk. Justin Long (“Live Free of Die Hard”) is the perpetually dazed new cameraman whose drug-induced non-sequiturs add obscure texture. When looking at a floating pink fish, he asks “Why is that thong floating away?” Just ignore the hammy Jonah Hill – in cocky post-“Superbad” mode – and everyone gets a laugh in “Wilderness.”
Steve Zahn works his ass off, and it should be noted that, for the most, part he succeeds. The guy deserves more credit than he gets. Playing second fiddle for most of his career, Zahn’s an underrated workhorse. Giving credible charm and laughs in crap like “Daddy Day Care” or “Riding in Cars with Boys,” Zahn’s a funny guy, and you might finally realize that after seeing this.
But the funniest parts of this movie, even after they were given away in the trailer – a death wish for comedies – are the animal footage commentaries. Steve Zahn, with a sincere and boyish naiveté, gives napkin-note-worthy takes on what kinds of creatures we see. He explains that term bears is derived from a Chicago football team. Mating lions get the funky guitar noises and porno-style shouts of “oh yeah.” And he explains that puffer fish grow big by sucking their testicles in. Wait, what?
This is strange, but funny.
It should be noted that this film wasn’t screened for critics, and that’s probably for good reason. This is a shoddily made film, with a sense of humor that reeks of late bong hits. “Strange Wilderness” is a difficult sell: a dumb comedy, made unique by its lazy energy.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
At Showcase and Quality 16
Level 1/Happy Madison