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    Teddy Bears' Picnic

    Kooks' tour

    Harry Shearer's "Teddy Bears' Picnic" doesn't quite work as a comedy about the leaders of the free world goofing off in a secret annual ritual, but a buried level of satire makes a good target out of the news media.


    From Harry Shearer and many of the other people responsible for "This Is Spinal Tap" and "Waiting for Guffman," "Teddy Bears' Picnic" is a satire of the ruling class that doesn't live up to its predecessors in laughs but has its moments.

    Written and directed by: Harry Shearer.
    Cast: John Michael Higgins, Ming-Na, Henry Gibson, David Rasche, Brenda Strong, Thom Sharp, Judith Owen, Gilbert J. Anderson, Julie Payne, Robert Mandan, Morgan Fairchild, Michael McKean, Alan Thicke, Harry Shearer, Justin Kirk, Travis Wester, George Wendt, Kenneth Mars, Bob Einstein, John O'Hurley, Howard Hesseman, Richard Israel, Fred Willard, Annabelle Gurwitch, Delaune Michel, Peter Marshall, Joyce Hyser, Darron Johnson, Burt Bulos, Kurtwood Smith, John Marrott, Dale E. Turner, Kiran Rao..

    Related links: Official site
    Most of the funny stuff is at the beginning, as the kings of commerce, government, the military and the universities converge on picturesque Zambesi Glen prior to their annual top-secret debauch, a 75-year tradition. Women have never been allowed to take part in the festivities (apart from a couple who hire themselves out as adult entertainment in a nearby cabin), but this year the members have been invited to bring their trophy wives and mistresses up for a look around before opening day.

    The middle of the movie features numerous scenes of men behaving badly, many of them not as hilarious as they were intended to be. Putting somebody like George Wendt in drag is an idea as old as Uncle Milty (not to mention Shakespeare) and doesn't come off as outrageous as it was intended, and casting Dick Butkus as King Lear probably sounded funnier as a concept than it turns out to be. And the behind-the-scenes wheeling-dealing between craven business interests and public officials is neither shocking nor all that funny because we all know it's pretty close to the truth.

    When embarrassing pictures leak out onto the local TV news, the story picks up in ways that might not be obvious at first.  

    But when embarrassing pictures leak out onto the local TV news, making the captains of industry look like overgrown (in age and girth) frat boys on a drunken tear, the story picks up in ways that might not be obvious at first. Because if you look right past the strained comedy elements there is a pretty accurate satire, not about the hijinks of the leaders of the free world, but about the news business and the reliability of the information we get about what our so-called leaders are up to. It's quite funny, actually, but not in a rolling-in-the-aisle-laughing way.

    Harry Shearer (Spinal Tap's Derek Smalls as well as being an "SNL" alum, "Simpsons" voice and radio satiricist) has made a comedy, because that's what he knows, to tell the story of a real phenomenon — the annual gathering at Bohemian Grove, as seen here, here, here and more — that almost demands to be covered as a documentary. You could almost picture Michael Moore barging in to expose the true secrets of the temple rather than this usually talented ensemble making up gags about it. That would be something to see.

    DECEMBER 31, 2002

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