Teddy Bears' Picnic

At first, it's hard to know what to call actor-writer-director Harry Shearer's bizarre film: It doesn't meet the minimum number of laughs to qualify as a comedy — two would have clinched it — and it's far too asinine to be taken seriously. But if you're at all familiar with the rumors surrounding the closely guarded activities at Bohemian Grove,...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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At first, it's hard to know what to call actor-writer-director Harry Shearer's bizarre film: It doesn't meet the minimum number of laughs to qualify as a comedy — two would have clinched it — and it's far too asinine to be taken seriously. But if you're at all familiar with the rumors surrounding the closely guarded activities at Bohemian Grove, the ultra-exclusive Sonoma Valley playground where the power elite are rumored to meet for two weeks of all-male hijinks and bizarre ritual, you'll slowly come to realize that it's meant to be a satire. The film purports to reveal the secret midsummer shenanigans at the fictional Zambesi Glen, a woodsy, Northern California retreat catering to very rich, very powerful and very white men. Each July, titans of industry, prominent Capital Hill-billies and such media movers and shakers as Alan Thicke and Peter Marshall (both good sports playing themselves) cavort amid the giant redwoods, toss back highly alcoholic concoctions known as "wood nymphs," attend lakeside policy lectures and practice for the Zambesi Glen Frolicks, a comedy revue in which several Zambesians don drag and pick up the women's parts. But this year's encampment gets off to a bad start when Polaroids of the arcane opening night ceremony — a strange rite during which Time is ritualistically assassinated and the Zambesians pay tribute to a giant pelican — wind up in the hands of the press, and photos of a few of the Glen's highly esteemed members dressed as can-can dancers appear in the next day's dailies. Fearing a serious security leak, this year's "patriarch," University of Northern California chancellor Porterfield Pendleton (Michael McKean), convenes the Glen's inner council, but an even greater crisis looms: Flares fired into the woods to flush out the suspected spy spark a serious forest fire. As it burns out of control, panic grips Zambesi Glen. Perhaps in keeping with its setting, the film has the thrown-together feel of a summer-camp talent show: hastily written, underrehearsed, arbitrarily plotted and filled with crude humor and vulgar innuendo. The generally talented cast, which includes Fred Willard, Howard Hesseman, George Wendt and Ming Na (as a tabloid news reporter) are wasted. John O'Hurley, best known for his portrayal of J. Peterman on Seinfeld, gets the movie's one and only solid laugh, but it comes too late to do any good.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: R
  • Review: At first, it's hard to know what to call actor-writer-director Harry Shearer's bizarre film: It doesn't meet the minimum number of laughs to qualify as a comedy — two would have clinched it — and it's far too asinine to be taken seriously. But if… (more)

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