Steve Zahn, Allen Covert, Jonah Hill, Kevin Heffernan, Justin Long, Ernest Borgnine
Fred Wolf, Peter Gaulke
I wish I had a friend like Adam Sandler.
Sandler has long been known as tremendously loyal to his creative circle, a group that includes his old SNL buddies along with steady collaborators like Allen Covert.
Through his Happy Madison Productions, Sandler has produced quite a number of low-budget, modestly profitable films written by, directed by and/or featuring those in his creative circle.
"Strange Wilderness" is such a film.
These films, of which "Grandma's Boy" is a prime example, are essentially "Sandler lite." They are Sandler films without Sandler and, essentially, they give his friends an opportunity to be in the spotlight.
Again, I'd love to have a friend like Adam Sandler.
The problem with these films, and most definitely the problem with this film, is that their low-budget nature is incredibly obvious and, more often than not, they end up looking like a student film produced in a workshop setting as a work in progress.
In "Strange Wilderness," the considerably underrated Steve Zahn takes the Sandleresque role as the host of a cable nature show who has, in the mere two years he's led the show since his father's death, managed to run the show in the ground largely through his own ineptness.
His producer (Jeff Garlin, "Daddy Day Care") gives him two weeks to turn it around when he stumbles across a map that may very well lead him to Bigfoot...the perfect subject to turn his show around. He assembles the perfect support team, personified by the likes of the aforementioned Covert, Jonah "Where's Judd when I need him?" Hill, Justin Long ("Accepted"), Kevin Heffernan and the scene-stealing Peter Dante.
Being a low-budget Sandler flick, oddball celebrities are bound to show up and "Strange Wilderness" doesn't disappoint in this arena with the likes of Harry Hamlin, Joe Don Baker and, in one of the film's highlights, Ernest Borgnine as a pot-smoking former TV cameraman.
Co-written and directed by Fred Wolf (screenwriter for "SNL," "Joe Dirt"), "Strange Wilderness" is just about as lame as "Grandma's Boy" but lacks that film's heart and good-natured humor that allowed it to find an audience.
One never goes into one of these low-budget Happy Madison films expecting cinematic greatness. Indeed, I'd dare say they aren't meant to be great films. They are meant, I believe, as Sandler's way of supporting the aspirations of those who have supported him on his way up.
Yet, as one who has always found even the worst of Sandler's films to be a guilty pleasure, it's impossible to deny that "Strange Wilderness" feels like a film that could have been much funnier and much more entertaining than it really is. Much like Sandler, Zahn has proven previously to have a gift for both sensitivity and physical comedy. The same is true for Covert, Garlin and the rest of this comically gifted cast.
So much comic talent, so few laughs. "Strange Wilderness" is strangely disappointing.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independentl Critic