Adam Sandler continues to look out for his friends via his production company, which has produced films for David Spade, Rob Schneider and now Steve Zahn. While it's terrific to see the underrated Zahn get the leading role, one wishes the material (written by "Joe Dirt" writer Fred Wolf, who also directs) was better. "Strange Wilderness" sees Zahn starring as a nature show host named Peter Gaulke (which, oddly enough, is the name of the film's co-writer, who apparently likes hearing people say his name in film, even if it's not actually him they are referring to.)
Peter has taken over on his father's beloved series, but things haven't exactly gone the way he's planned, and he's been given two weeks by the network exec (Jeff Garlin) to turn the show around or its headed for cancellation. In order to get ratings, he tries a stunt: head to South America with his goofy crew (one of whom is named Fred Wolf, like the other screenwriter, who thought, "Gee, I'd like to have one of the characters named after me, too.") in order to try and find Bigfoot before a rival nature show does.
That's really the long and the short of the plot, which exists solely to string together a series of lowbrow gags that feels like the first gags thrown out by the writers and their pals sitting around after a few drinks. While a few of them get a minor chuckle, the majority of them either just fall flat or try too hard to be raunchy (and, despite the latter, the picture didn't seem like it tried to go that far with the R rating.)
Probably the saddest aspect of the whole enterprise is the fact that there are actual nature shows that are funnier than this - just watch any episode of "The Jeff Corwin Experience". "Strange Wilderness" also aims squarely for the stoner crowd - there's not much in the way of pot jokes as much as there's just characters just smoking pot. The film's main bits that register much of a laugh are the actual nature segments, which have some absurd lines looped over them. Adam Sandler's "Happy Madison" production house is credited, and one is clearly reminded while watching this film of the "We are all dumber for having listened" speech from "Billy Madison".
Beyond anything, the real disappointment is Zahn, who seems a little bored and even a little embarassed to sink as low as the picture's lowest joke, where his downstairs gets attacked by a turkey. As for supporting efforts, Justin Long plays a character who's stoned all the time and Jonah Hill plays a character who uses a joke buzzer on people. Hy-ster-i-cal. Ashley Scott, as the required blonde chick, actually displays some charm and gets a few more laughs than the rest.
"Strange Wilderness" looks like it was thrown together over the course of a couple of weeks and countless beers. With no real plot and scenes that seem like filler, the picture still manages to make a mere 85 minutes feel a whole lot longer. Zahn, who's been funny in the past, really could have chosen a lot better material to make his jump from supporting player to lead.
VIDEO: "Strange Wilderness" is presented by Paramount Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is an above-average transfer, whose positives include consistently solid sharpness and detail. The picture appeared not only consistently crisp and well-defined, but smaller details (hairs, etc.) were presented with above-average clarity during some scenes.
Some minor edge enhancement didn't get in the way too much, and no pixelation or print flaws were spotted. The film's bright color palette seemed spot-on, with nice saturation and no smearing.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation offers...not much. The film's sound design is purely a comedy mix, with very little in the way of surround use. The missed opportunities here are the outdoor scenes, which would have benefitted from some added ambience from the rears. Audio quality seemed fine, as dialogue remained clear and natural-sounding throughout.
EXTRAS: Deleted scenes, "Reel Comedy: Strange Wilderness" promotional featurette, "What Do We Do?" featurette, "The Turkey" featurette and "Cooker's Song".
Final Thoughts: "Strange Wilderness" is simply strange - the film is nearly plotless and the jokes are mediocre at best. The cast doesn't elevated the material, as Zahn looks moderately disinterested and the others look as if they're treating the project more as a paid vacation than anything else. The DVD offers very good video quality, fine audio and not much in the way of supplemental features. Skip it.
The Film C-