Open Season

Grizzly bear Boog (voiced by Martin Lawrence) loves the fruits of his domesticated lifestyle. Pampered and loved by his owner Beth (Debra Messing), Boog can’t imagine the world outside his garage home; but when Boog frees Elliot (Ashton Kutcher) from the clutches of an evil hunter (Gary Sinise), the deer tries to repay the debt by taking the bear out into the wild. Eventually lost deep in the woods, Boog and Elliot find themselves smack dab in the middle of hunting season, looking to their fellow animals for help (including Billy Connolly as a Scottish squirrel and Jon Favreau as a chainsaw-happy beaver).

2006 has been a very hard year on CG animated movies. With new releases coming down the chute seemingly every week, the marketplace has become a 20-car pileup on a hot summer freeway: each film gasping for movement, but stuck in between brutal competition. That’s why it’s so hard to review a film like “Open Season,” which has all the good intentions in the world to entertain and play directly to kids. Still, the truth of the experience cannot be ignored: it’s unbearably derivative and overwhelmingly unfunny.

As any bleary-eyed parent might tell you, you’ve already seen “Season.” This is another talking animal tale written with the rat-tat-tat joke speed of “Shrek” and the gooey heart of Pixar. “Season” skates on known quantities because it knows the ice is thick enough to support it, but the cracks are getting more severe, and the genre cannot survive another animal buddy picture unless some serious upgrades in screenwriting occur. The filmmakers are out of ideas, and “Season” represents their laziest tendencies to blindly follow whatever worked in earlier, better pictures without risking a shot at a genuine test of skill.

“Season” is cuddly, and the screenplay sets itself up routinely for slapstick sequences where the cast can dust off their improv skills. Lawrence makes for a gently rumbling, yearning bear, but little is written for him to remind people that he was once an achingly funny guy long before his fame and fortune. Kutcher, on the other hand, is more of a drag. Somebody, somewhere told the actor he was a natural at comedy, but I have yet to see it crushingly effective on the big screen. Elliot has a terrific screwball character design, but Kutcher is too enamored of his own schoolyard wit to be of any use to the film.

Sadly, “Season” also establishes that actor Patrick Warburton is only capable of one voice, which is put to use again playing Elliot’s romantic rival. It has effectively worn out its welcome.

Spending way too much time trying to find stuff for Sinise’s character to do and furthering the CG mandate that at least 30% of all jokes will involve flatulence or feces (seriously, Hollywood, this material isn’t necessary), “Season” quickly becomes tiresome. The fatigue of too many productions taking trips to the same well is showing, and “Open Season” is just another step in the wrong direction.

Rating: D
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