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Teddy Bears' Picnic

Starring Michael McKean, George Wendt, Fred Willard and many many more
Written and Directed by Harry Shearer

IN SHORT: A simmering comedy that doesn't quite come to full boil. [Not Rated. 85 minutes]

Beyond the A-list. Beyond Fortune magazine's list of the Wealthiest Men in America. Beyond any possible conception of where power truly lies in this world stand the members of the Zambesi Glen, rich white men who must now and again retreat from the fast paced, high pressured world they inhabit to commune with nature, entertain intellectual discourse in a private setting and set aside the duties they bear as titans of industry, military and entertainment complexes. Let us peer into the world inhabited by men such as banker Stanton Vandermint (Robert Mandan); industrialists Clifford Sloane (Henry Gibson) and his son-in-law Elliot Chevron (David Rasche) and sports team owner Gene Molinari (Kenneth Mars), and his brooding son, Coach Dom (Bob Einstein); Air Force General "Pete" Gerberding (George Wendt), lawyer "Whit" Summers (John Michael Higgins), ex-football player and presidential hopeful Senator Roger Dickey (Fred Willard) and Chancellor of the University of Northern California, "Porty" Pendleton (Michael McKean). Commercial director Ted Frye (Howard Hesseman) is on hand to direct the kickline as these titans of titans blow off steam, far from the gaze of their wives and girlfriends who had previously inspected the premises to make sure nothing naughty was going on.

Wives aside, that "kickline" is in drag and those titans, freed of restraint, can booze it up, whore it up and romp around the woods bare ass naked without a care in the world because the Zambesi Glen is as private as private can be. No cameras or video allowed. So begins Harry Shearer's satire on all that is power in this world. Sometimes it is hysterically funny. Sometimes it just hums along under its own comedic power, stoked by the presence of comic actors who have built careers of cumulative decades on the small screen. Without blowing the jokes we can say that, if you have found that your sense of humor fit well with Christopher Guest's screen outings, you'll find yourself in the flow with Shearer as well.

Once upon a time, to make a better comparison, there was a radio monologist named Jean Shepherd who took to the airwaves on WOR each night and, for three hours, told a story. Shepherd never told his story in a straight line. He'd start off for fifteen minutes, drift over to something that caught his eye in the newspapers, make fun of his sponsors and, eventually, get back to the story he began almost three hours before. The genius of Shep was that, only when he wrapped all the parts together did you know that everything that came out of his mouth in that three hour period was part of the bigger story. When he was on his marks, it was a breathtaking thing to hear.

We mention Shepherd because we have read that Shearer was a fan, as were we. His storytelling style is similar, though for the big screen he stuffs us full of characters and potential story conflicts which never really come back around. The women appear and all but disappear -- only ace television news reporter and sometimes anchorperson Katy Woo (Ming-Na) remains in the story as she's married to "Whit". Spilling the secrets of the club could boost her career above and beyond that of anchorman Earle Hansen (John O'Hurley). Protecting the secrets of the club could boost her husband's standing. And the Channel 6 newsmen are paying some of the grunt help to sneak a video camera in after they get their hands on some Polaroid pictures of that drag kickline and smell blood.

There's nothing but potential here, simmering and bubbling and never coming to full boil. Government officials in nun's habits; feminists protesting at the gate; chopper crashes; forest fires; the joys of nuclear proliferation and real life guest appearances by Alan Thicke, Peter Marshall and various sports personalities. Shearer wrote, directed, produced, composed the songs, has a small part as the Major Domo of the kitchen, provided as many background off-camera voices as possible and delivered a labor of love into our screening room. Perhaps next time he'll lighten the load and tighten up his story. Whatever comes, we'll be there because we like this kind of humor. That being said, we follow our own codes in determining our rating for Teddy Bear's Picnic, whose distribution is none too wide.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Teddy Bear's Picnic, he would have paid . . .


dateflick for this geezer. You may wish to wait for the tape.

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