The condemned: Campin’ Buddies (2014)
The plot: Backstory-less friends Tom (Tom Lester) and Rayford (Ray Stevens) participate in an animal-capturing camping competition (bring back the biggest live bird, fish, and “varmint”) in hopes of winning a $550,000 camper bus. After an endless series of encounters with Victoria Jackson in various guises (as a woman trying to steal their money in order to win the contest herself), they fail to capture any animals, so they buy a goldfish, a parakeet, and a rabbit. They come in second place. They go home. That’s it. And even that’s a generous description, narrative-wise. Here’s the movie as embodied by a line from over halfway through: “We wasted more time here today than an Amish electrician.”
Over-the-top box copy: “Campin’ Buddies: A Tom Logan film.” Calling it a “film” is a little over the top—the thing barely exceeds 50 minutes.
The descent: Campin’ Buddies has so little reason to exist, it’s hard to dig up the motivations behind the project’s genesis. Back in 2008, a cheapie direct-to-DVD named Huntin’ Buddies was made, starring Lester and Tim Conway, the latter of whom gained fame on the original McHale’s Navy, then via shorter stints on The Carol Burnett Show and his Dorf On… series of comedic videos, which essentially consisted of the comic actor playing a midget via putting shoes on his knees and ambling around, à la Gary Oldman in Tiptoes. This was considered by some parts of the country to be quite funny at the time. This follow-up seems to be a rough reworking of the same Huntin’ Buddies concept, only without even the minor “star” wattage of Conway involved.
The theoretically heavenly talent: It’s unclear who the target market for this film is, as the tone pitches it squarely at the under-10 crowd, but only baby boomers and up will likely remember Tom Lester from Green Acres, or Ray Stevens, a novelty songwriter who had a few goofball hits in the ’60s and ’70s. There’s also a brief appearance by Donny Most from Happy Days, to complete the feeling that the whole endeavor was originally scheduled to film 40 years ago and only got the permits cleared in 2014, so they went ahead and did it. Which leaves the role of best-known participant to… Victoria Jackson. The former Saturday Night Live cast member and current far-right lunatic who makes Ted Nugent seem well-spoken provides the sole morbid curiosity factor for checking out this endeavor: She plays no fewer than seven different roles, each one more ham-fisted and vacuous than the last. Tom Logan, who spun a brief acting career into a gig writing and directing countless made-for-TV movies and low-budget children’s programs, seems to find Jackson’s antics hilarious, which is how you end up with scenes like the following:
The execution: You know a movie is striving for greatness when the opening credits are in Comic Sans. Even by the forgiving standards of “appealing to little kids,” Campin’ Buddies lacks basic coherence in so many ways as to beggar belief. The movie is aiming (as Jackson describes it in a behind-the-scenes video available on the film’s website) for a “Three Stooges meets The Beverly Hillbillies” tone, but lands more in the neighborhood of “friends making a home movie who find The Beverly Hillbillies to be way too highfalutin’ and holdin’ truck with that book learnin’.” It’s got the crack comic timing of an episode of Laugh-In on Quaaludes. The film ambles genially from one scene to the next, with the camera essentially waiting patiently for the actors to recite some corny one-liners, then sets up somewhere else to allow them to do the same. Here’s the liveliest sequence in the whole thing—a slapstick bit that involves a stuffed moose head landing on someone, the height of hilarity—and it happens before the opening credits have even finished. (Apologies for the poor quality—the streaming site hosting Campin’ Buddies is clearly the independent work of a plucky company that doesn’t quite have a handle on smooth delivery.)
From there, the film sets up its let’s-go-camping premise and proceeds to spend the next 30 minutes filming one Victoria Jackson bit after the next. It’s excruciating, though after awhile it becomes somewhat funny simply because of how astonishingly committed the movie is to capturing every last moment of shtick the sort-of-actor delivers. Seconds will tick by as the camera waits for her to mug again. And oh, does she step up. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Victoria Jackson:
And Victoria Jackson:
Also, Victoria Jackson:
Introducing Victoria Jackson:
And let’s not forget about Victoria Jackson:
Give it up one more time for Victoria Jackson!
Did we say once more? Sorry, there’s also this disaster:
The really ludicrous thing is that the film tries to make a running gag out of the idea that all these people really are just one person. The first five roles all make reference to the fact that she’s not related to any of the people that have come before, which is dumb, but at least recognizable as a meta joke. Then, after the pink-haired teen bit, she walks up to a coworker and talks about how she’s taking money from our heroes in all sorts of ways—the implication being that this woman is some monstrous swindler screwing over two doddering old men in order to win the contest herself.
Only, that doesn’t make any fucking sense whatsoever. Forget that it would be impossible to bend time and space in the ways required to get her to and from each location and ready to go in the next costume; even as a plot device it’s senseless. She takes money from the two men, but she ends up winning the contest by virtue of being the only other person to enter the competition. This was all pointless, not to mention she’d have no way of knowing what these guys were up to, let alone be ready with a complicated plan that would take months to properly prepare and execute. “Hey, Campin’ Buddies, can you explain all these inconsistencies that don’t even rise to the level of coherence needed to be called a plot hole?” you might ask. “Go fuck yourself,” Campin’ Buddies would reply. And then fart.
Once the nonstop barrage of Jackson has finally, mercifully ceased, the plot lumbers into action, though it’s really just a few scattered scenes of the guys unsuccessfully executing such outdoorsy actions as pitching a tent, sleeping in that tent, fishing, and hunting. There’s a scene of children infected with an illness that causes them to shake uncontrollably, which the film dubs the “St. Vitus Shimmy-Shams,” that is played for laughs, but which drags on for minutes and goes over like a fart in church. It is left utterly unexplained why the children are there, why they’re chasing Victoria Jackson, or what any of it has to do with anything. It’s almost hypnotic in its badness. Here, don’t enjoy it for yourself.
Every scene features characters recycling some hack outdated joke (save a bold Bieber reference in the opening minutes), then doing two or three more variations in steady repetition, as though the director chose to leave in all the alternate takes because he couldn’t bear to part with such gold. Or maybe he just needed every frame to pad the running time in order to cross that arbitrary 50-minute mark. By the time Donny Most appears to award the contest prize (the enormous bus which the film bizarrely refers to a “camper van”), the whole thing has taken on the vibe of a movie whose intended audience could only be the people who made it. At one point, Ray Stevens’ Rayford make reference to his no-good music-playin’ cousin, Ray Stevens. Which is not something anyone could find funny unless they were Ray Stevens, or knew who Ray Stevens was, which the kids young enough to possibly be distracted by this slapdash affair surely don’t.
The film ends with Jackson’s inexplicable antagonist riding off in victory, while our heroes slink back home in defeat. What a fun, upbeat ending! It’s a dour, listless shrug of a conclusion to a film that never really bothers itself with anything like stakes or motivation, let alone narrative coherence.
Likelihood it will rise from obscurity: Zilch. It’s not even a fun hate-watch. The best a Campin’ Buddies blu-ray could hope for is to sit around on the dollar shelf of a truck stop in hopes of being snatched up by a harried parent desperate to shut their kids up for an hour.
Damnable commentary track or special features? None accompany the streaming rental, and images of the DVD and blu-ray don’t suggest any additional features. The website contains a “behind the scenes” video that appears to have been shot for a local Louisiana TV station, and it’s a bleak watch indeed.