Teddy Bears’ Picnic

Writer-director Harry Shearer is a very talented comic actor and commentator, best known for his numerous voices on The Simpsons (Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, et al) as well as his role in This Is Spinal Tap. So how does he fare as a filmmaker? Let me put it this way: don't quit The Simpsons just yet, Harry.

A broad satire, Teddy Bears' Picnic is about a weeklong forest retreat for successful white men – business tycoons, celebrities, political leaders, millionaires all – in order to "blow off some steam", which means a) boozing it up; b) sleeping with the hookers across the lake; and c) acting like frat boys.

The premise, inspired by the real-life antics at the ultra elite Bohemian Grove, is clever. The execution, unfortunately, is flat. This is a little surprising, since the cast is full of hilarious actors such as Michael McKean, Fred Willard, George Wendt, and Henry Gibson. Perhaps they were all so confident of their comedic abilities that they felt they didn't need to put much effort into the material.

I've also long noticed something about Shearer's writing: it's so sharp that it's not really funny. Shearer's targets are a little too obvious, too, and while he avoids most of the stereotypical Republican jokes, he nevertheless mocks his characters without ever relating to them. It makes for a smug – and, even at 80 minutes, rather tiresome – comedy.

Finally, the film is cheaply made and ugly to look at. You'd think the self-funded Shearer would have coughed up a little more of that Simpsons cash in order to score some nicer production values. Teddy Bears' Picnic looks like it was shot for fifty cents.