*/**** Image B- Sound B-
starring Daniel Stern, Jon Polito, Brad Sullivan, Ann Dowd
screenplay by John Jordan & Danny Byers and Tom Swerdlow & Michael Goldberg
directed by Greg Beeman
by Walter Chaw The Yang to the distaff Yin of Troop Beverly Hills, Bushwhacked, Greg Beeman's endlessly irritating slapstick take on High Sierra, finds the bird-faced actor Daniel Stern doing his best to milk the hysterical simpleton shtick of his hapless Home Alone villain. Nicknaming Stern's character "Spider" for no real reason but to, eight years after its release and just now finding its way to DVD, connect it in a disturbing way to David Cronenberg's thirteenth film by way of arrested Freudian developmental phases and fixations on body function, Bushwhacked, as it happens, is also about as funny as Spider--not a particularly shining endorsement of something that's ostensibly a comedy.
Max "Spider" Grabelski (Stern) is a deliveryman framed for the murder of a banker who goes on the run in the scenic Sierras around Lake Tahoe. Mistaken for an über-scoutmaster by a troop of scouts who each need to overcome a childhood insecurity, Max, with the feds (Jon Polito) and the real scoutmaster (Brad Sullivan) hot on his trail, finds his inner mensch en route to a rendezvous with something that'll clear his name.
Bear attack, bee attack, mass urination on a federal official, and a manic demonstration of human sexuality with a Ken and Barbie doll mix in the kind of bubble that early man would rub on himself to ward off biting insects. What's imagined as a full-length cartoon, however, swiftly devolves into a joyless rubber-mallet to the temple wielded by the ham-fist of Stern's Chris Elliott-on-meth persona. Moments of redemption come in the surprisingly excellent performances of the children, who, given little to work with, find a way to flesh out their characters and provide Bushwhacked with spark and even a small measure of joy. Not a bad film, then, for children whose parents don't mind having to re-explain the birds and the bees without the exclamations and post-coital cigarette.
Presented in full-frame and an expansive 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen video transfer on opposite sides of a flipper DVD, Bushwhacked looks exactly like a film made in the 1980s. Seeing as how the first joke involves Stern's Max dressed as a relic of the Seventies, and seeing as how the picture was actually released in 1995, the shipwreck is cumulatively several years past its "sell by" date (and was none too fresh upon its original release, come to think of it). The image, even in its anamorphic incarnation, is grainy and muted; edges are soft and colours bleed into the red scale.
The fullscreen version is even worse, though it's clear that director Greg Beeman (veteran of television, most recently "Smallville") has framed the action with its eventual panning-and-scanning in mind. Though the picture gets better for its entire second half, not much care seems to have gone into restoring Bushwhacked. The Dolby 2.0 Surround audio mix presents its dialogue with clarity (and its awful soundtrack with fidelity). The disc, part of Fox's "Family Feature" series, also includes a nice-looking trailer for the film (that cribs the one for cinematic contemporary Cliffhanger) plus trailers for Far From Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog and a grainy, nostalgically-wrenching one for Lucas, the Rudy of getting laid. Originally published: March 19, 2003.