Big Bear lacks bite

Joey Kern's buddy comedy (with a hostage!) aims for Hangover excess, but comes up a little short

BIG BEAR (Joey Kern). 88 minutes. Opens Friday (September 22). See listing. Rating: NN

Actor Joey Kern – a co-star of Cabin Fever, Bloodsucking Bastards and the TV series Good Behavior – makes his directorial debut with Big Bear, a film that does indeed feature a big bear but is also set in the eponymous California getaway. Dual meanings, man.

Big Bear is a comedy about four friends gathering for a bachelor party at a California cabin, only to run into a couple of serious complications. First, would-be groom Joe (Kern) just got dumped, and second, the man for whom Joe was dumped is tied up in the basement and awaiting whatever tortures the bros can cook up.

Kern, who also wrote the script, is shooting for a breezy farce about buddies in over their heads, likely inspired by Todd Phillips’s Hangover trilogy. And he’s assembled a solid cast of comic performers: Tyler Labine, Adam Brody and Zachary Knighton are the hero’s overeager pals, with Pablo Schreiber as their surprisingly reasonable hostage.

They’re all familiar faces – Knighton from Happy Endings, Labine from Reaper, Brody from The O.C. and Schreiber from Orange Is The New Black and American Gods – and they work well together, each actor making scenes pop just by being open to whatever the other guys in the shot are doing. Brody’s pragmatic sociopath turns out to be the movie’s best running gag, once you get where he’s coming from.

The problem is the tone, which aims for the Hangover excess on a limited budget, and without their sense of wreckage the jaunty musical score is constantly reminding us that no one here is in any real danger, and the “torture” is more about empty threats than physical pain. (The closest this movie gets to edginess is in its assaultive depiction of Joe’s occasional panic attacks, which seem to be from another movie entirely.)

So while Big Bear offers a few genuine laughs, it’s also ultimately toothless: no matter how loud it gets, it’s never gonna bite.

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