September 28, 2006

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Open Season (PG)
Martin Lawrence dons a fat suit — though this time it’s an animated one — and manages to create an actual humorous likeable character in the cartoon Open Season, a mostly entertaining buddy adventure tale.

That the other half of this buddy duo is voiced by Ashton Kutcher and done in an equally affable manner is part of the miraculous nature of this film. Lawrence truly fits in the personality of Boog, a domesticated bear being raised by park ranger Beth (Debra Messing). Boog loves his garage, his fish-shaped crackers, his teddy bear and his life as the star of Beth’s show. Beth and her ranger boss worry that it may be time to reintroduce Boog into the wild. Boog gets his first inkling of how that life might be when he meets Elliot (Kutcher), a goofy good-natured deer who is hit by a car, causing him to lose an antler and wake up from his impact to find himself tied to a car. Boog helps Elliot get free and shoos the hyper creature back to the woods. But Elliot is intrigued by Boog’s lifestyle and visits Beth’s garage to check out how Boog lives. Boog is proud of his warm garage, his comfy bed and his flush toilet and wants Elliot to shove off before Beth decides to give him the deer as a roommate. But Beth mista
kes Boog’s loud irritation for a more feral demonstration of anger. She hits him with a tranquilizer dart and, while he sleeps, she sadly moves her friend into his new home in the wild, taking care to move him above the region of the forest where hunters seek their prey.

Boog awakes horrified that he’s nowhere near his indoor plumbing (as it turns out, that saying about what bears do in the woods ain’t so true if the bear’s been raised with Charmin). He wants nothing to do with Elliot, but eventually agrees to stick with the wacky deer if Elliot can get Boog back to the town and his human comforts. This means going down the mountain and into the hunter’s territory (though the pair learn what that means way too late).

Along the way, they trade barbs with the clannish squirrel named McSquizzy (Billy Connelly), a bunch of teamster-ish beavers, a pushy buck named Ian (Patrick Warburton) and a human named Shaw (Gary Sinise), who’s certain that the animals are banding together to overrun human civilization.

Shaw, the nutty human villain, is probably the least effective part of the supporting character cast. He’s sort of a generic baddie, made a little overly crazy in what seems like an attempt not to alienate the red states by hitting too hard on the hunting-is-bad message.

Despite this mushy point, the movie works, in part because the story isn’t as much about the fight against Shaw as about the adventures of the sweetly bickering Boog and Elliot. Boog is grumpy and longs for a comfortable home; Elliot is delighted to be in the company of an at-least potential friend. Yes, this is a variation Shrek and Donkey. But it’s one of the better rip-offs of this formula and the first one I’ve seen in a while that didn’t have younger audience members bored and asking for popcorn or to leave.

The surprising charm of the movie is perhaps best described by Boog when he says that the forest is a strange, messed-up place. The movie doesn’t over-cute its characters, allowing them to be just weird enough to still feel relatively fresh. And after a glut of so many canned CGI animated movies, “relatively fresh” is a refreshing alternative. B

— Amy Diaz


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