There was a strange period in the 1990s where studios conjured up the brilliant comic formula of placing well-respected comic actors into the middle of the wilderness and watching them stumblebum around in search of a laugh. Perhaps it was due to the roaring success of The Great Outdoors in 1988, but not every one of these flicks could have John Hughes’ fingerprints all over it. The track record has been dismal to say the least: Tim Allen in Jungle 2 Jungle, Brendan Frasier in George of the Jungle, and Jim Varney in Treehouse Hostage are just some of the films that make up this ragtag genre.
For some reason, I’ve sat through them all. And now I can add Bushwhacked to my list of questionable ways I’ve spent my time.
To be fair, Bushwhacked is probably the best of all the aforementioned failed star vehicles. A lion’s weight of the credit — no, all the credit — is due to Daniel Stern, who is delightfully unhinged from the first moment he appears on screen. Originally conceived as a Home Alone spinoff, Bushwhacked essentially revolves around Stern’s dimwitted character Marv. Serious suspension of disbelief isn’t necessarily required to believe that Marv left Harry for a bit and went off on his own to deliver packages to a millionaire at $50 a pop. Then one time, during an average late night delivery, was ambushed by an FBI Agent (Jon Polito), and forced to flee into the wilderness where he’s mistaken for a boy scout leader. As a result, he’s tasked with chaperoning five young boys and a girl through the treacherous wilderness.
That’s the plot of Bushwhacked, only Stern is “Mad” Max Grabelski, a loudmouthed, uncouth slob. Once he’s forced out on the trail with the pint-sized scouts, Max tries to direct them to a mountain cabin Devil’s Peak — 23 miles off course on a path only fit for experienced climbers. Hot on their tails is the FBI agent and the scoutmaster (Brad Sullivan) originally tasked with handling the kids (a little run-in with Max prevented that from going according to plan). Watching helplessly is Ann Dowd, the mother of one of the boys who unwillingly let the shabby bloke in Italian loafers and a leather jacket lead the kids on an expedition through the woods. An entirely logical scenario!
Bushwhacked isn’t meant to be logical, it’s meant to be humorous. It’s successful only on a part-time basis. The most inspired moment comes when one of the boys has to relieve himself. This is after the squad annoys Max with one of their made-up scout songs to the point where he lashes out at the troop. Max has an idea, however. Stop for a pee-break, so the boys can hang their “lizards” over a steep cliff and sing a tune he makes up on the spot:
“Shake your lizards, let it rain!
Move your hips, and spell your name!
Send it straight, send it hard!
Now a swordfight, go on-guard!
Eat your veggies! Eat your starches!
Lean back boys… GOLDEN ARCHES!”
I confess that I laughed loudly at that bit, largely thanks to Stern’s incredible passion in leading the kids through the song as if he’s trying to motivate a football team down at halftime. The lone girl in the group simply looks away in disgust — also funny. It’s easily the liveliest bit in the film, mainly because there’s a shred of wit, no matter how juvenile. Much of Bushwhacked is Stern loudly barking orders at the kids, with various hijinks coming up short in the laugh department. There is one harrowing scene on one of those rickety old wooden bridges, but that might be my acrophobia talking.
Alas, Bushwhacked wears out its welcome relatively early, as the humor grows stale within 30 minutes. It is interesting to note that for a PG movie, there is a strong amount of vulgarity. Even the plot takes a dark turn towards the end when the FBI agent corners Max, unmoved at the very thought of the kids dying in the violent, rocky waters of a nearby river. It reminded me of Kangaroo Jack with the sudden onset of reality injected into the plot, only that film was reworked from a R-rated action-comedy. Bushwhacked was simply reworked from what probably would’ve been an equally middling Home Alone spinoff.
NOTE: As of this writing, Bushwhacked is now streaming on HBO Max.
Starring: Daniel Stern, Jon Polito, Brad Sullivan, Ann Dowd, and Anthony Heald. Directed by: Greg Beeman.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!