Actor Steve Zahn had just finished shooting “Rescue Dawn,” a dramatic war movie set in Thailand. Right after the shooting wrapped, Zahn took a kayaking trip in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam for six weeks before he returned to the humid Hanoi. While away, his agent had been trying to get a hold of him for weeks because of a new part he was offered. It wasn’t “Rescue Dawn”- in fact, this movie was the near antithesis of that, but he was thrilled to take the part.
In a phone interview with The Hatchet, Zahn said that he thought to himself after reading the script and laughing, “man am I just laughing because I just did ‘Rescue Dawn’ and now I’m in Hanoi? I’m like sitting there in my hotel in my underwear and that’s why it’s funny, or is it really that funny, you know what I mean? So I read it again and I laughed even harder.”
What kind of movie could make the man known for turning lovable losers into comedic brilliance giggle in his underwear? It was “Strange Wilderness” (Happy Madison Productions), a comedic movie with an ensemble cast, coming out Feb. 1.
In the movie, Peter Gaulke (Zahn) inherits an animal show from his deceased father. He and his crew go on air at 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning until Peter’s boss finally watches the show and gets offended. Now Peter and his pals (Allen Covert, Peter Dante, and Ashley Scott) must find the show to top all other shows and save their little animal program. This, of course, requires a quest for Bigfoot.
Yet, this is not one of those stoner movies racked full of cheap and low humor. That is a stereotype that pisses Zahn off. “Is there pot smokin’ in the movie? .All of a sudden, you know, it’s like a – it’s a stoner movie. We drank beer, too, so it’s a beer-drinking movie. I thought [the movie] was funny and I’m 40 years-old.”
Underneath the surface of this movie lies comedic genius from some of the most sought after comedic writers Steve Gaulke and Fred Wolf, who wrote for Saturday Night Live back in the days of Sandler and Farley. Although the script is great on its own, the actors didn’t stick to it for much of the movie. So much was adlib and improv- and good adlib and improv at that- which only comes out of a great script. There is no moral to this movie. There is no lesson or didactic maxims that are require for the viewer to pick up. It is meant to be as funny as possible, even if the actual plot line has to suffer.
“Strange Wilderness” has an independent feel. With a limited budget comes more pressure for artistic performance, and the actors readily comply. The studio is not breathing down their necks analyzing if what the actors did really was funny. For instance, Zahn has the liberty to burst out into random Cher songs at really inappropriate and awkward movements.
“We could do crazy shit like that, that really is funny stuff,” Zahn said. He can be himself- a laid back, goofy guy who prefers to be in the wilderness farming, hunting and fishing at his Lexington, Kentucky home.
When such a genuine person is making a movie, you know you too will burst into uncontrollable laughter.
Strange Wilderness, starring Steve Zahn, Allen Covert, and Jonah Hill, opens in theaters nationwide Feb. 1.
This article appeared in the January 31, 2008 issue of the Hatchet.