Movie Review: Open Season
FILM REVIEW: OPEN SEASON
By Michael Wilmington
Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher may seem like an odd-sounding comedy team, but in some weird way, they click as voice actors and cartoon buddies in "Open Season," the first feature from Sony Pictures Animation. It's a movie that kids will probably like, but that may rightly exasperate hard-core hunters and "Field and Stream" subscribers.
"Season" starts out as a back-to-nature comedy about a big, fuzzy hipster of a domesticated grizzly bear, Boog (Lawrence), who's been sent back to the wilderness for misbehavior - getting drunk and trashing a convenience store - by his loving and regretful "mama," winsome forest ranger Beth (Debra Messing). Boog has led a fat and sassy dream life in Beth's town, Timberline, as a show-biz bear, but he gets exiled along with his fast-talking, one-horned mule deer cohort and all-around bad influence, Elliot (Kutcher), who keeps leading him astray for the entire movie.
So the two roam, squabble and bicker like a furry Martin and Lewis, or the gang in "Ice Age." Midway through though, "Open Season" turns into an animals-vs.-hunters tale about lovable forest creatures banding together and fighting back the wave of humans that descend on them every year like locusts outfitted by L.L. Bean. The last half of the movie plays like "Bambi's Revenge," or the forest critter version of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," told from a bird's-eye view.
Led by Boog and Elliot, a battalion of ferocious squirrels, rambunctious skunks, rampaging deer, a wacky duck and busy little beavers with chainsaws all set aside their differences and explode into revolt, attacking the crass, heavily armed hunters.
Most visible and obnoxious of the gun-toters is a snarling brute named Shaw (Gary Sinise, in his sadist mode), a maniac with a cabin full of mounted animal heads who looks and acts like a mix of Paul Bunyan, Jack the Ripper and Bluto from the "Popeye" cartoons. There's also bossy tourist wife Bobbie, a Jennifer Tilly type voiced by Georgia Engel of the classic TV "Mary Tyler Moore Show."
As for the critters, after Boog and Elliot, the most notable are the mad Scottish squirrel McSquizzy (the right role for Billy Connolly of "Mrs. Brown"); Elliot's dream girl deer Giselle (Jane Krakowski); his arrogant, fully antlered rival Ian (cartoon regular Patrick Warburton); and blue-collar beaver boss Reilly (Jon Favreau).
The movie has a quasi-hip air; the original songs are by the Replacements' Paul Westerberg. And technically, it's often a marvel. "Open Season" is a computer-animated film with lots of three-dimensional effects and detail - there seem to be thousands of waving, springy hairs on Boog's hide - but with a stark visual style that also owes something to the artsy, minimalist look of the UPA cartoons of the '50s with Gerald McBoing Boing or Mr. Magoo.
The directors, Jill Culton (from Pixar) and Roger Allers ("The Lion King"), and co-director Anthony Stacchi try a lot of tricks here - such as the frequent Tex Avery-ish bash-the-bunnies jokes, obviously inserted to lower the movie's cuteness ratio - and they've given the movie the casual visual virtuosity that marks a lot of post-"Little Mermaid" feature cartoons. But they're sometimes let down by the script, which is unoriginal and tends to wander all over the woods, like Boog and Elliot.
That meandering script, a group effort, comes from an original story by "In the Bleachers" cartoonist Steve Moore and John Carls. Stacchi and Culton worked on the story, too, along with official scenarists Nat Mauldin (the famed cartoonist Bill's son), and Steve Bencich and Ron J. Friedman, co-writers of "Brother Bear" and "Chicken Little." And, though it seems funny to say it, the scenario is a little too ambitious. It depends on a moral development in Boog and Elliot we can't see, and on too abrupt a switch from typical buddy-buddy trek comedy to fable of wildlife revolution.
Though the chemistry works in the end, it's still a bit odd to hear dreamboat Kutcher in the gabby sidekick part that would usually be played by a star comic - the kind of smart-alecky role played by Eddie Murphy as Elliot's seeming inspiration, the motor-mouth donkey in "Shrek." Kutcher isn't bad, but he's sometimes too obvious, as is Sinise. That leaves the comedy honors here to Lawrence and Connolly. They're no Mel Blancs, but they get their laughs.
And though "Open Season" is no "Shrek" or "Ice Age," it gets laughs. It's capable of giving at least the kid part of the audience a good hunter-trashing, bunny-bashing time.
Directed by Jill Culton and Roger Allers; co-directed by Anthony Stacchi; written by Steve Bencich, Ron J. Friedman and Nat Mauldin; edited by Pamela Ziegenhagen-Shefland; production designed by Michael Humphries; music by Paul Westerberg and Ramin Djawadi; original songs by Westerberg; produced by Michelle Murdocca. A Columbia Pictures release of a Sony Pictures Animation film; opens Friday, Sept. 29. Running time: 1:19. MPAA rating: PG (some rude humor, mild action and brief language).
Boog - Martin Lawrence
Elliot - Ashton Kutcher
Shaw - Gary Sinise
Beth - Debra Messing
McSquizzy - Billy Connolly
Bobbie - Georgia Engel
Reilly - Jon Favreau
Giselle - Jane Krakowski