Directed by: Roger Allers, Jill Culton, Anthony Stacchi
Starring: Martin Lawrence, Ashton Kutcher, Gary Sinise, Debra Messing
No, Open Season is not a whole lot more than what threatens to become Computer Animated Movie of the Week. It has no more substance than most such movies, and when it slaps the 20-year-old Talking Heads song, "Wild Wild Life," on the soundtrack, the sense of throwing a bone to the adults in the audience is palpable. The animation is a mix of the astonishingly good (the main anthropomorphic animals are marvelously rendered) and the barely adequate (most of the humans look like they're made out of Play-Doh and their mouth movements are about on par with the dubbing in an Italian sword-and-sandal epic).
The storyline is no great shakes -- tame grizzly bear Boog (Martin Lawrence) is led astray by jive-talking deer Elliot (Ashton Kutcher) and is returned to the wild by owner Beth (Debra Messing, TV's Will and Grace). The antics are courtesy of the domesticated Boog's inability to cope with the wild (he spends a good deal of the movie in search of a toilet, giving lie to the saying about what a bear does in the woods). The drama comes from a deranged hunter, Shaw (Gary Sinise), who behaves like a refugee from a Chainsaw Massacre picture. In most respects, Open Season is just another Shrek knock-off -- with Boog standing in for Shrek and Elliot serving as Donkey. However, the film isn't painfully bad, and on occasion it's almost strange enough to pass muster on that score alone.
It may also be the simple fact that Messrs. Lawrence and Kutcher are less obnoxious when you only have to listen to them, rather than actually see them, though neither offers a particularly noteworthy performance. Kutcher can't quite seem to define his character (at about the halfway point he suddenly plays Elliot in a manner suggesting gayness and then just as suddenly stops). Still, given a choice between seeing Lawrence in another Big Momma movie or Kutcher in his other new movie The Guardian, Open Season looks pretty good.
And truth to tell, there are a handful of funny -- and sometimes surprising -- gags in the film. The sequence where Boog is pulling a rope off Elliot behind a curtain so that in shadow he appears -- to a horrified audience of youngsters -- to be disemboweling the hapless deer is both amusing and a little shocking, as is the follow-up gag where a can of paint gets splashed across the curtain convincing the onlookers that something very gory indeed has occurred. (How suitable for youngsters this is I leave up to individual parents.) There's also a bit where Elliot sings Boog to sleep, making up words to "The Teddy Bears' Picnic" that include lyrics about a "flatulent dwarf who lived upstairs and constantly had to pee," which isn't so much funny as just downright peculiar, but it does keep your attention. The same could be said of a porcupine (Matthew Taylor) that crops up now and then to gaze longingly at our heroes and mutter, "Buddy," in a manner that's just plain creepy.
Mostly, though, it's a harmlessly predictable affair, complete with Boog learning how to put the grizzly in his bear. Whether or not he ever comes to terms with the lack of even rudimentary plumbing in the wild remains unanswered. Rated PG for some rude humor, mild action and brief language.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke