Shot through with the kind of Boy Scout innocence that's rarely been seen since the days of '60s adventure pics for Disney, "Grizzly Falls" is a fable for young boys who can only imagine what it's like to get lost in the woods and hang with a big bear. Undemanding saga is such a weak brew that teens who might have fond memories of pics like "Wild America" won't get near this one, leaving biz strictly for pre-teens.

Shot through with the kind of Boy Scout innocence that’s rarely been seen since the days of ’60s adventure pics for Disney, “Grizzly Falls” is a fable for young boys who can only imagine what it’s like to get lost in the woods and hang with a big bear. Undemanding saga is such a weak brew that teens who might have fond memories of pics like “Wild America” won’t get near this one, leaving biz strictly for pre-teens. Pic will thus come home fairly empty in theatrical, but should bear up better in ancillaries.

Canuck-Brit co-production was able to snare some impressive casting with Bryan Brown and Richard Harris, but by current standards is too limited as a piece of physical filmmaking to generate excitement. While there is the predictable bonding between a boy and his bear, pic — lensed in the kind of Albertan Rocky climes to recall the phrase “Bring me men to match my mountains” — surprisingly avoids scoring any points in the ecological message department, and even makes little use of its titular setting.

Harris’ primary role is as voiceover narrator, but his stint begins onscreen as Old Harry, an elderly expert in grizzlies on a camping trip with his grandkids (Chantal Dick and Trevor Lowden) whom he entertains with his childhood adventure. Brief prologue shifts to unidentified past, when Young Harry (Daniel Clark) endures not only the death of his mother (Marnie McPhail) by consumption but a dislikable boarding school — though both of these events are so perfunctorily presented that there’s little emotional investment in little Harry’s fate.

His father, Tyrone (Brown), is some kind of globe-hopping anthropologist who’s guilty over being away when his wife died, and who seems to want to make it up to Harry by bringing him along on his biggest outdoor challenge to date: capturing an adult grizzly. Richard Beattie’s script does an exceptionally poor job of establishing Brown’s character in terms of profession and his ultimate plans for the bear, which seem to be scientific but which helmer Stewart Raffill and Brown pitch as more in the macho hunter mold.

Creative storytelling device of depicting Dad strictly from Harry’s p.o.v. is lost amid the muddling camerawork and editing, and even when the drama seems to be getting juiced up by intro of wily, mangy trackers like Genet (Oliver Tobias), it’s marred by blunt overacting and writing. Indian tracker Joshua (Tom Jackson) is, natch, the calm, wise one of the bunch, even as things get out of control when grizzly cubs are captured and Harry is abducted by the enraged mother bear (played by well-trained, if ineffectively filmed, Ali Oop).

Action between the boy and animal, whom he grows to love and dub “Miz” because the creature is generally miserable, is mostly in a fantasy realm that should please boys who’d love to trade places with Harry if only for a day, but who might not be aware that a grizzly behaves like this only in the movies. There’s a bow to realism in the depiction of Harry’s clever survival efforts, but the boy’s desperate state is assiduously softened.

Brown brings his all to the standard-issue material, exuding the drive and the bruises of a world traveler, and he’s paired with a warm perf by Canuck fave Jackson. Both take screen time, though, away from main event of Young Harry and Miz, whom Raffill tends to frame in single shots rather than two-shots. Clark suggests a budding thesp who could deliver big-time with the right script, while this may be, sadly, the best starring role Ali Oop will ever get.

Lame stuntwork and subdued thrills indicate not just a low-budgeter, but a blindness to what target aud demands. Thom Best’s lensing would have benefited from widescreen treatment, while a whole lot less music from overworking composers David Reilly and Paul J. Zaza would have benefited everyone.

Grizzly Falls

Canada-U.K.

Production

A Providence Entertainment release of a Behaviour Worldwide/Norstar Filmed Entertainment presentation, in association with Le Sabre, of a Peter Simpson and Allan Scott production. Produced by Peter R. Simpson, Scott. Executive producers, Mark Damon, Raylan Jensen, Georges Campana. Directed by Stewart Raffill. Screenplay, Richard Beattie. Story, Stuart Margolin.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color Toronto prints), Thom Best; editor, Nick Rotundo; music, David Reilly, Paul J. Zaza; production designer, Tom Carnegie; set decorator, Cheryl Dorsey; costume designer, Minda Johansen; sound (Dolby Digital), Jack Buchanan; sound designer, Movietrack; supervising sound editor, Tim Lewiston; special effects coordinator, Ron Craig, FX Associates; bear trainers, Ruth Labarge, Scott Handley, Dana Dube, Andrew Simpson, Jack Wright; bear suit, Knight's Taxidermy; assistant director, Philip J. Mead; casting, Ron Leach. Reviewed at Sunset Screening Room, L.A., Jan. 24, 2000. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Young Harry - Daniel Clark Tyrone - Bryan Brown Joshua - Tom Jackson Genet - Oliver Tobias Old Harry - Richard Harris Lanky - Brock Simpson Young Jennifer - Chantal Dick Joshua Jr. - Trevor Lowden Harry's Mother - Marnie McPhail "Miz" the Bear - Ali Oop Other bears: Betty & Barney, Bonkers, Ursula, Whopper.
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