Background: Star driven movies are as old as Hollywood and just as in vogue now as ever. The studios bank on the popularity of the actor more than the project itself, knowing full well that even a marginally popular actor can turn a profit thanks to cable, home sales, international rights, and merchandising augmenting box office returns. Names like Schwarzenegger, Cruise, Smith, and many others have fulfilled this role in the industry but today I focus more on the likes of Jerry Lewis, Abbott and Costello, Cheech & Chong, Pryor, and even Jim "Ernest P. Worrell" Varney with my look at Witless Protection Blu-Ray. The movie stars Dan Whitney in his "Larry the Cable Guy" persona; the redneck Bubba that liberals just can't hate enough. As expected, the movie uses more politically incorrect humor than many elitists will be able to stomach and even fans of the guy may find this to be a particularly mixed effort but here's a quick take on the high definition version of the movie so well covered yesterday by reviewer Paul Mavis.
Movie: Witless Protection Blu-Ray is a story about Deputy Larry Stalder, a man with dreams of becoming an FBI agent, stuck in a rural community where people don't put on airs of superiority. Larry is not particularly well suited for law enforcement until you look closer at how he operates. His language and mannerisms are crude but he cares about people, even taking off his gun to calm a neighbor down during a domestic dispute (with his horse no less!). Larry's busty girlfriend Connie (Jenny McCarthy) in a no nonsense waitress that cares deeply for him, devoted to the guy no matter how crude he may be at times. Larry doesn't care who he offends, preferring to use his rustic sayings instead of outright swearing but always manages to get his point across by "speaking American" (speaking plainly instead of with the pretentious attitude the morally superior tend to do). One morning when hanging out at Connie's diner, a black SUV filled with dark suited men and an attractive woman makes a pit stop that elevated Larry's not-so-finely honed cop sense; setting in motion his desire to rescue her from the obvious kidnapping that no one else sees. Larry springs to action with the help of the community using neighborhood oriented policing at its very best, showing how a crafty rural type can outsmart those uptight city slickers every time (shades of Crocodile Dundee!)
Grabbing Madeleine (Ivana Milicevic) from her captors, Larry takes to the road while denying he just thwarted the FBI that were holding her as part of a witness protection program; the lady about to testify against a wealthy corporate goon Arthur Grimsley (Peter Stormare) for white collar crimes. Grimsley sends out his own set of goons to silence her, the team led by Wilford Duvall (Eric Roberts in a new career low point), and the chase is on. It doesn't take too long for Larry, hillbilly "dumb" as he may appear on the outside, to figure out the FBI protectors are in on the plot so he takes his unwilling charge under his wing to save the day. The pair get along about as well as can be expected; Madeleine hates the earthy man for everything she dislikes about her past just as Larry thinks she's as uptight as a woman can possibly be, the tension between them providing most of the comic relief from the loosely threaded plot.
Road movies being what they are, you can't look too closely at the details or you lose the sense of adventure and fun they provide, this decidedly blue-collar flick about what one would expect from a low end director with little experience handling multiple hats; Charles Robert Carner about two names too many for such a movie as director, writer, and screenplay writer. Unlike some of Whitney's standup routines that gained him a substantial audience, Witless Protection certainly downplayed the racial, ethnic, and "mean" humor in favor of light pokes all across the board. The howls of critical jeers offered up earlier this year serve more as a guide to uptight critics than anything else in this case since you'd wonder just how anxious some people were that a sizable population enjoys admittedly lowbrow comedy such as this but in very few cases were the jokes the kind that would offend a person with a sense of humor. The downside to the Larry persona being downplayed though was the humor did suffer more often than not. No one expects a coherent plot from this kind of movie and many of the side bits were desperately in need of editing since it was clear that everything possible was done to focus on the star himself, not the two dimensional secondary cast; a disappointing fact given that McCarthy has long displayed a great sense of humor and was so underutilized this time, as were Joe Mantegna, and Yaphet Kotto (as the grim-faced special agent).
Thankfully, the hit to miss ratio was offset by the sheer quantity of jokes, at least enough for me to rate this version of the movie as worthy of a Rent It. Larry as the "can-do" type of deputy was a cross between the wonderful Don Knotts "Deputy Barney Fife" and common sense driven Andy "Sheriff Taylor" Griffith updated for a modern age to appeal to a wider audience than some of the critics seem to appreciate. There are a lot of reasons why the Larry character appeals to so many people, even those in liberal bastions around this country, and if you're in the mood for a few dozen belly laughs, generally with Larry getting the short end of the stick, you could do far worst than this one so give it a look.
Picture: Witless Protection Blu-Ray was presented in the same 1.85:1 widescreen it was shot in by director Charles Robert Carner; this blu-ray version mastered in the AVC codec with modest bitrate hovering in the upper teens (typically around 19 Mbps) with a lot of variation throughout the movie. I did not see a lot of compression artifacts but there was some aliasing on heavily patterned shirts and stairs, with the colors looking a bit muted throughout the show. The flesh tones were accurate but the benefits of the blu-ray format were not particularly in evidence here, any increases in resolution offset by the manner in which the movie was shot on 35mm film stock. The dark areas such as the night scenes did not fare as well as expected and I used the SD trailer from the Senior Skip Day title I reviewed recently as a means of comparison; minimal improvement observed to make it worth purchasing in this format over SD (even for Larry fans).
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of the expansive 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio track that clocked in at 1.5 Mbps or the 5.1 Dolby Digital EX track with the 640 Kbps; both using 48 kHz and in English with optional subtitles in English or Spanish. There was rarely significant use of the back channels or bass in either version and the cost saving measure of employing sound alike versions of popular songs (this even had a special extra for those that care) did not help but the vocals were clearly heard and music fitting this kind of movie. The blending of the effects, vocals, and music were also pretty well handled for this kind of project, few surprises popping up to merit particular consideration or comment.
Extras: I'm used to blu-ray titles with bare bones extras so I was pleasantly surprised that this one had a full plate to offer up. It started with the standard Making of feature called Making Witness that lasted 12:13 minutes and had the cast commenting on the rest of the cast (focusing on Larry). Then came Larry's Use of the Analogy that lasted 5:41 minutes and took a highbrow approach to explaining how Larry communicates (though "analogy" isn't quite right in most cases). There was then the aforementioned extra on the music of the show called Musicians of Witless Protection lasting 11:11 minutes as it focused on the director's version of Achy Breaky Heart, Don Was (of Was Not Was) giving a lesson in movie economics, and some interesting points made by all. Then came a 2:55 minute feature called A Cast of Critters where lovely Jenny McCarthy gave a tour of the animal cast members such as Wilbur the woodchuck playing a beaver, Rufus and Riley the raccoons, and the iguana. Then came a 3:21 minute extra detailing the death scene and how tough it was for Ivana Milicevic to keep a straight face around all the clowns on set. The Blooper Reel was similarly short, clocking in at 3:19 minutes (starting with Larry getting a line "right" even though he was supposed to get it "wrong"). A quick look at this one will show you who was in most need of acting lessons but it was still fairly cute. The last unique extra was the 2:45 minutes of deleted and extended scenes; none of which added a lot to the show. For those that care, these extras were all presented in blu-ray but used a 2.0 audio track (48 kHz at 192 Kbps). There were some trailers too, the Delta Farce one enough to make me look for it on cable in the near future.
Final Thoughts: Witless Protection Blu-Ray was lowbrow humor all the way and those that are especially sensitive to having a good time should probably avoid this one like a Clinton/Obama debate but fans of Larry the Cable Guy will enjoy seeing him ever so slightly expand his repertoire while remaining true to his roots. There was a lot of physical humor, nods to all sorts of pop culture icons, and the movie made as much sense as any of the "Ernest" flicks from years back but it caters to the core Larry audience and as a guilty pleasure, I find it difficult to jump on the bandwagon of haters that vilified the movie earlier this year. If you set your sights low, you might want to pick up a copy but the SD version did not look all that bad so paying a premium for the blu-ray version is a bit much to ask. As an aside, you can also find an alternative view of the movie from the theatrical release by checking out Brian's Review though I disagree with almost everything he said, he did manage to make a convincing argument for those so inclined with his mindset.