EmptyLaughter is definitely an endangered species where "Strange Wilderness" is concerned.
An exceptionally lame comedy about the loser son of a late wildlife program host who hopes a close encounter with Bigfoot will save the program from imminent extinction, this first feature by former "Saturday Night Live" scribe Fred Wolf plays like one giant outtake reel.
Despite luring an ensemble of bright young comic actors, including Steve Zahn, Jonah Hill and Justin Long, this presentation of Adam Sandler's Happy Madison Prods. went out over the Super Bowl weekend without any advance exposure to critics.
Word-of-mouth should effectively do the job for them.
Having effectively driven his dad's beloved nature show into the ground since he took it over, Zahn's Peter Gaulke (he happens to share his name with Wolf's writing partner) needs a big ratings stunt to keep it on the air.
Obtaining a map of Bigfoot's jungle lair from his dad's survivalist friend (Joe Don Baker), Gaulke and his partner, one Fred Wolf (Sandler movie regular Allen Covert), gather a crew together for the biggest expedition of their lives.
Unfortunately, they forgot to pack anything resembling jokes.
It should come as no real surprise that "Wilderness" originally took the form of a decade-old series of short wildlife-show parody videos penned by Wolf and Gaulke (the real guys, not their screen alter egos), seeing as the whole thing feels like a dated "SNL" sketch stretched to the breaking point.
The result is a slacker comedy that goes slacker by the second, trying hard to be rude and crude but suggesting an old John Candy-Dan Aykroyd movie with bongs and more swearing.
It's evident that Wolf's cast -- which also includes Harry Hamlin, Ernest Borgnine, Broken Lizard sketch troupe member Kevin Heffernan, Robert Patrick and Ashley Scott as the honorary female member of the frat pack -- has been encouraged to improvise wherever they see fit, which only serves to accentuate the negative.
There's a slapdash quality to the entire production, which gives the impression that it was made for one of Peter Gaulke's (the character, not the writer) shoestring budgets.
At least there was enough left over to pay for composer Waddy Wachtel, whose retro, guitar-heavy score summons up the requisite toasted '70s effect.
Paramount Level 1 Entertainment presents a Happy Madison production
Director: Fred Wolf
Screenwriters: Peter Gaulke & Fred Wolf
Producer: Peter Gaulke
Executive producers: Adam Sandler, Jack Giarraputo, Glenn S. Gainor, Bill Todman Jr., Edward Milstein, Paul Schwake
Director of photography: David Hennings
Production designer: Perry Andelin Blake
Music: Waddy Wachtel
Costume designer: Maya Lieberman
Editor: Tom Costain
Peter Gaulke: Steve Zahn
Fred Wolf: Allen Covert
Cooker: Jonah Hill
Bill Whitaker: Kevin Heffernan
Cheryl: Ashley Scott
Danny Gutierrez: Peter Dante
Sky Pierson: Harry Hamlin
Gus Hayden: Robert Patrick
Bill Calhoun: Joe Don Baker
Junior: Justin Long
Ed Lawson: Jeff Garlin
Milas: Ernest Borgnine
Running time -- 87 minutes
MPAA rating: R