Directed by: Peter Hastings
Starring: Christopher Walken, Stephen Tobolowsky, Meagan Fay, Haley Joel Osment
Disney World opened somewhere around 1971. That means that I spent more than 30 years strenuously avoiding being subjected to The Country Bear Jamboree. Well, the damned bruins have finally caught up with me with a vengeance, thanks to their cinematic incarnation as The Country Bears. The movie left me feeling that I never wanted to see another movie in my life. Yes, it's that bad. It's worse than that bad. It out-Pootie Tangs Pootie Tang in its sheer awfulness. It's more screwed up than Freddy Got Fingered. It's more addle-brained than Enough. It's even more painful than Glitter. And, it's more shoddily made and scripted than all of those put together. Indeed, The Country Bears could well become the yardstick by which all bad movies are measured. Within 10 of its 88 minutes, you know that this is no mere bad movie. It's so bad that it's hard to believe it got this bad accidentally. Presumably it did, though the fact that its per screen box-office average is $666, according to Box Office Mojo, may suggest something darker. That anyone -- even the most desperate creatively challenged person imaginable -- thought that turning a theme-park attraction into a movie was a viable idea is pretty frightening in and of itself. That this witless non-plot rip-off of Stuart Little and Almost Famous is the best neophyte screenwriter Mark Perez (previously responsible for Frank McKlusky, C.I., which seems to have been withdrawn after test screenings) is downright unbelievable. Here's the idea: Little Beary Barrington (a guy in bear drag with Haley Joel Osment's voice) is clued in on the fact that he's adopted and goes in search of his roots by way of visiting Country Bear Hall where the "legendary" Country Bears (think: the Grateful Dead in sweaty bear suits) once performed. Alas, Country Bear Hall is about to be demolished by evil banker Reed Thimple (Christopher Walken in ill-fitting clothes and a hat two sizes too small) for being six years and $20,000 in arrears on the mortgage. (Why the bears just don't eat him, I don't know.) Well, gosh darn if little Beary doesn't have an inspiration: Get the band back together and put on a show to save the hall! (Someone has seen too many Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movies.) The bulk of the film then concerns getting the band back together -- with time out for non-musical guest appearances by Elton John, Queen Latifah, Bonnie Rait (who also sings for the movie's one and only female bear), Willie Nelson, etc. One can only imagine just who these folks owe favors or money. None of this, however, begins to factor in the film's extreme strangeness. Like Stuart Little 2 the movie takes place in some alternate universe where not only do bears talk, but no one seems to notice that they aren't human. The sole exception to this is Beary's "brother," who appears to be the only person in front of -- and perhaps behind -- the camera even slightly in tune with reality. The "comic relief" cops sent in search of the missing Beary seem blissfully ignorant of the fact that they're looking for a bear, but since one of them wears a paste-on mustache for no explicable reason I doubt it matters much. At the same time, the characters appear to be sometimes treated as bears, since some of them wear tracking collars. Of course, I'm willing to believe that most of the humans in the movie might as easily be bears in people suits. How else explain a bizarre sequence in which Christopher Walken walks around in his underwear (possibly he noticed that the costume sent over from wardrobe didn't fit), continually smashing models of Country Bear Hall by dropping a weight suspended from the ceiling? And just exactly why does the Bears' roadie (M.C. Gainey) have a pet chicken that he carries with him everywhere (Pink Flamingos came readily to mind in an unwholesome heartbeat)? I guess it's supposed to be funny. It isn't. It's just weird -- and slightly creepy. It's also disheartening to see the film rip off the splendid "Tiny Dancer" tour-bus sequence from Almost Famous that so marvelously nailed rock music's potential as a unifying and healing force. Here, it's cheap sentiment and padding. (It's bargain-basement time, too, since The Country Bears wasn't springing for anything from the main Elton repertoire and opted to use the relatively obscure "Friends," which undoubtedly cost less.) Now, I'm not saying the movie is totally without its power. After all, any movie that can make you wish you were watching Kung Pow: Enter the Fist has accomplished something.