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In hunters vs. hunted, creatures get a sporting chance

It's survival of the animated sort as a coddled bear and a marked deer lay the trap in `Open Season.'

September 29, 2006|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

Is there such a thing as too much Ashton Kutcher? I don't know, I'm just asking. In one of those peculiar convergences of motion picture distribution, the actor has lead roles in not one but two of this week's major releases. Along with his action bow in "The Guardian," he costars opposite Martin Lawrence in the garrulously warm and wacky animated comedy "Open Season."

Based on the comic strip "In the Bleachers" by former Times staffer Steve Moore, the movie is an amusing if slight excursion into nature with a group of animals who turn the tables on their collective nemeses, the hunters. "Open Season" screens in 3-D in selected Imax theaters, and that would be the most novel way to see this otherwise traditional foray into anthropomorphic humor.

Lawrence is the voice of Boog, a laid-back grizzly bear who follows in the footsteps of animated ursine creatures that go back at least as far as Hanna-Barbera's Yogi Bear and Baloo from Disney's "The Jungle Book," not to mention a certain former Baltimore Orioles first baseman. Boog lives what he sees as the good life, performing in a campground nature show and sleeping in the garage of a kind-hearted ranger named Beth (Debra Messing), who each night tucks him in and sings "Teddy Bears' Picnic" to him. Enter Elliot (Kutcher), a klutzy, hyper mule deer, who is introduced -- three days before hunting season -- strapped to the hood of a truck belonging to Shaw (Gary Sinise), a wild-eyed hunter who looks as though he might hang out with crossbow enthusiast Ted Nugent.

Boog rather innocently frees Elliot, who then attempts to pay him back by rescuing him from the domestic bliss afforded by the town of Timberline. Mayhem and misunderstanding ensue and Beth is forced to realize that it's time she released Boog, whom she raised from a cub, back to the wild.

By now, open season has begun so Beth takes Boog high enough up the mountain to presumably be safe from the likes of Shaw. With Elliot as his running mate, however, that's not a sure thing. Boog does not adapt well to his new environment, butting heads with a gruff squirrel named McSquizzy, who speaks with the Scottish burr of Billy Connolly; a no-nonsense beaver named Reilly (Jon Favreau); a ubiquitous, multipurpose group of rabbits; and Elliot's nemesis, Ian (Patrick Warburton), an alpha deer from his old herd.

Boog quickly decides that the place for him is back in the security and comfort of Beth's garage. But the quickly descending hunters and the furry menagerie surrounding Boog conspire to make that easier said than done.

Directed by Roger Allers ("The Lion King") and Pixar alumnus Jill Culton, "Open Season" is an amiable, fast-paced lark. Kutcher's wired screechiness riffs nicely alongside Lawrence's cool bass and a raft of well-cast supporting voices and rich visuals fill out the slender story.

From the title sequence accompanied by Talking Heads' "Wild Wild Life" ("I'm wearin' fur pyjamas") through the slew of catchy songs from Paul Westerberg, the movie is a genial romp and because it relies on the gentlest of scatological comedy, it can be enjoyed by all ages.


`Open Season'

MPAA rating: PG for some rude humor, mild action and brief language

A Columbia/Sony Pictures Entertainment release. Directors Jill Culton, Roger Allers. Producer Michelle Murdocca. Screenplay by Steven Bencich & Ron J. Friedman and Nat Mauldin, screen story by Culton and Anthony Stacchi, original story by Steve Moore and John Carls. Editor Pamela Ziegenhagen-Shefland. Music Paul Westerberg, Ramin Djawadi. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.

In general release. Shown in 3-D in selected Imax theaters.

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