During the Oscar telecast, Nathan Lane delivered a crack about the Weinstein brothers of Miramax and then mock-apologized. "The rich and powerful," he said. "We make fun of them because we love them." Maybe it's true, because there's a whole lotta love in "Teddy Bears' Picnic."
Allegedly based on a real-life retreat where people like Dick Cheney go to relax amid nature while spending the rest of the year trying to destroy it, "Teddy Bears' Picnic" (no real relation to the song) does for industrialists, politicians, pro-football owners and lawyers what Christopher Guest's "Best in Show' did for dog owners--but without the skewer. Which is odd, because a place like Zambesi Glen--the name given Harry Shearer's summer camp for not-so-wayward, very rich boys--is a sitting duck for really vicious humor. What we get instead is "Caddyshack" crossed with the Royal Order of Raccoons.
The first mistake of "the Glen," where "fellowship" is used as a verb and the rich and infantile get to abandon "the dreary burdens of power and privilege," is letting women in. During a special one-time-only luncheon that more or less discombobulates the staff, wives and mistresses are permitted to tour the grounds to see the various "lodges" devoted to the members' various fields of endeavor and then are kindly asked to get out. ("Women after dark ... it's just not right," shudders the chef, played by Shearer). It's also the beginning of the crisis that befalls Zambesi, because lawyer Whit Summers (John Michael Higgins) has brought his wife, Katy Woo (Ming-Na), a reporter for Channel 6 news. And when Polaroids leak out of the Glen exposing their various arcane rituals--dancing in drag, irrigating redwoods, consulting the sacred pelican--the world gets clued in to what's going on inside.
The cast is a real all-star team of little-seen talent--Kenneth Mars is hilarious as NFL team owner Gene Molinari, whose abuse of his son Dom (Bob Einstein, a.k.a. Super Dave Osborne) carries the kind of edge the whole movie should have had. Howard Hesseman, as the commercial director brought in to save the annual "follies," is another performer you'd like to see more of, as is Robert Mandan ("Soap"), whose Stanton Vandermint is the consummate insider. But instead, Shearer (whose various comedic achievements include the "Simpsons" voice of Ned Flanders) tilts at power with a feather duster instead of an ax, and nobody's the least bit bloodied when the whole thing's over.
MPAA rating: Unrated.
John Anderson is a film critic for Newsday, a Tribune company.
'Teddy Bears' Picnic'
John Michael Higgins...Whit Summers
Robert Mandan...Stanton Vandermint
Michael McKean...Porterfield Pendleton
Harry Shearer...Joey Lavin
Kenneth Mars...Gene Molinari
Bob Einstein...Dom Molinari
Howard Hesseman...Ted Frye
A Visionbox Pictures production, in association with Century of Progress Productions, released by Magnolia Pictures. Writer-director Harry Shearer. Producers Marc Ambrose. Executive producers John Bard Manulis, Harry Shearer, Michael Kastenbaum. Cinematographer Jaime Reynoso. Editor Jeff Ford. Costume designer Anne Attwood. Production designer Cliff Spencer. Set decorator Nya Patrinos. Running time: 1:20.
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