“Bushwhacked”: That’s what you’re likely to feel very early on in this strained, way, way over-the-top comedy-thriller in which its star, Daniel Stern, as the film’s executive producer, gives himself free rein to mug and show off to increasingly numbing and tedious effect.
Stern, so often terrific, casts himself as a numskull deliveryman framed for murder who winds up deep in a forest, mistaken for a Scout leader and charged with taking six youngsters on a mountain-climbing expedition while dodging the bad guys.
Director Greg Beeman and a team of four writers make no pretense at establishing even minimal credibility. For openers, how is it that an otherwise seemingly responsible mother (Ann Dowd) turns over her son and five other children to a clearly rattled guy whose mountain-climbing outfit includes loafers and a leather jacket?
Once the plot is cranked into motion the filmmakers reach deep into the movies’ ancient bag of suspense tricks, including having Stern and the youngsters cross a flimsy bridge spanning a crevice, thrown into the roiling rapids and hanging onto cliffs--devices familiar from the time of D.W. Griffith. These gimmicks can still be amusing, but Stern’s incessant manic abrasiveness takes all the fun out of them.
Whereas Stern here is shamelessly self-indulgent, his young co-stars--Blake Bashoff, Corey Carrier, Ari Greenberg, Max Goldblatt, Michael Galeota and Janna Michaels--are bright, game and likable. Brad Sullivan scores some laughs as the unflappable actual Scout leader. There are always films that can be recommended for children that would not engage adults, but in the case of “Bushwhacked,” young audiences deserve lots better.
* MPAA rating: PG-13, for crude dialogue. Times guidelines: The film’s content is suitable for all ages , but parents or guardians should be prepared to caution small children not to try to duplicate the many life-threatening exploits.
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Daniel Stern: Max Grabelski
Jon Polito: Agent Palmer
Brad Sullivan: Jack Erickson
Ann Dowd: Mrs. Patterson
A 20th Century Fox presentation. Director Greg Beeman. Producers Charles B. Wessler, Paul Schiff. Executive producer Daniel Stern. Screenplay by John Jordan & Danny Byers and Tommy Swerdlow & Michael Goldberg; from a story by Jordan and Byers. Cinematographer Theo Van de Sande. Editor Ross Albert. Costumes Mary Zophres. Music Bill Conti. Production designers Mark W. Mansbridge, Sandy Veneziano. Art director Bruce Crone. Set decorator Joe Mitchell. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.