For a movie reviewer, criticizing 'Witless Protection' is like shooting ducks in a barrel. This is the very definition of "low brow," and the kind of cinematic comedy that seems ready made to give critics something to rip apart with wild abandon. The fact that this latest ode to redneck stupidity from Larry the Cable Guy was also a financial flop, however, indicates that for once totally incompetent filmmaking did not win out at the box office. Here's a movie that both critics and audiences seemed to dismiss in equal measure, making my job easier -- this really is a pretty big piece of crap, and few are likely to disagree.
The threadbare story sees Larry (aka comedian Dan Whitney) starring as Deputy Sheriff Larry Stalder. He's your typical white trash fat slob, a Forrest Gump with a badge that also has an impossibly hot girlfriend Connie (Jenny McCarthy), and dreams of getting out of his small-town life and pursuing a career with the FBI. He gets his wish with the arrival of Agent Ricardo Bodi (Yaphet Kotto), who is charge of escorting endangered witness Madeleine (Ivana Milicevic) who's on the run from a nasty multimillionaire named Bodi (Peter Stormare). Throw in Wilford Duvall (Eric Roberts!), who plays the head of a private security division, and you have a B-list-studded redneck laugh-fest that's short on laughs and high on stupidity.
That 'Witless Protection' is totally predictable is no surprise. This is another of those feel-good Southern yarns that sees the country bumpkin yearn for a cultured life in the great urban sprawl, only to learn that, aw shucks, life really is better back on the farm. It's an anti-intellectual and anti-ambitious theme, the fact that the filmmakers throw in a trail of tasteless and lightly misogynist/racist/homophobic jokes along the way only adds fuel to the fire.
Being a fan of everything from Lenny Bruce to Archie Bunker to Wanda Sykes, the presence of off-color and politically incorrect humor didn't initially repel me. The problem with 'Witless Protection,' however, is twofold. First, the humor is of the most basic and demeaning kind, finding laughs in all the obvious stereotypes (all Middle Easterners are "pamperheads" etc. -- har har). Such lame-brained and simplistic humor plays to the most basic prejudices of the audience rather than stimulating or challenging them, which makes 'Witless Protection' worse than just unfunny -- it's utterly lazy.
'Witless Protection' is also entirely incompetent. It's a failure of narrative storytelling, with scenes that go nowhere, subplots that make no sense, and characters (and otherwise fine actors) often wasted. McCarthy is so barely in the movie it's almost a cameo, while Kotto does the best he can with a way-underwritten character. Even Stormare (who was so memorable as a villain in 'Fargo') and Roberts are tossed aside, given nothing to chew on but the scenery. Add to that dreadful editing and sloppy directing (by Charles Robert Carner, who also wrote the screenplay), and you have a movie so shoddy it's surprising a major studio even released it.
Does 'Witless Protection' have any redeeming qualities. Unfortunately, yes, which is why I can't give it zero stars. There are a few funny gags in there, and Larry the Cable Guy actually has the ability to deliver solid comedic timing when he tries. I also thought the idea of a redneck deputy who dreams of making it in the FBI is an idea that has some merit. There are a couple of moments of real emotion in his plight, which suggests the movie that might have been, but despite these minor bright spots, 'Witless Protection' is so relentlessly bad that I would only wish this 98 minutes on the most masochistic of moviegoers.
Lionsgate presents 'Witless Protection' in a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1). Appropriate to the film it supports, the transfer looks perfectly fine, if utterly undistinguished.
The source is predictably clean for a new release, with only a slight bit of grain evident (particularly during darker scenes). Colors have a nice clarity to them even if the film's photography only rarely rises above the level of a TV sitcom. Fleshtones are accurate. The image is well balanced, with deep blacks and contrast that only occasionally veers towards the hot end of the scale. Shadow delineation is relatively weak, however, and detail often drops substantially. The flat visual look also doesn't provide great depth, though at least this is a pretty clean encode, as I noticed only some slight motion artifacts. 'Witless Protection' looks about as good as I would have expected.
Two audio options are provided, DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 7.1 Surround (48kHz/16-bit) and Dolby Digital Surround EX (640kbps). The film's bland sound design hardly benefits from such generous offerings, however, so don't expect a gangbusters demo disc.
Surround use is meager -- rarely did I hear any discrete effects of note. Mild ambiance is present, usually for light atmosphere and some directionality of the score. Dialogue is recorded cleanly for what is essentially a low-budget flick. The soundtrack never sound particularly dynamic, whether it is the pleasant low bass that never intrudes, or the lack of any brightness to the high-end. As with the video, 'Witless Protection' sounds like the low brow, undistinguished comedy that it is.
'Witless Protection' hits Blu-ray day-and-date with the DVD. The shared standard extras are pretty thin. (All the video-based material is presented in full 1080 video, with optional English and Spanish subtitles.)
'Witless Protection' is another box office dud from Larry the Cable Guy. It's a sophomoric and forgettable satire of law enforcement, as if the world really needed such a thing. This Blu-ray is a perfectly fine presentation of the material, with solid video and audio and a few supplements. Even for Larry the Cable Guy fans, it's hard to imagine 'Witless Protection' rating more than a rental.