The hunt is upon us

“Open Season”

Sony Pictures Entertainment

Directed by Roger Allers, Jill Culton and Anthony Stacchi

Written by Steve Bencich and Ron J. Friedman

Starring the voices of Martin Lawrence, Ashton Kutcher, Gary Sinise, Debra Messing, Billy Connolly and Patrick Warburton

Rated PG/99 minutes

Opens Sept. 29, 2006

Two-and-a-half out of four stars

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A hefty grump (preferably some kind of greenish, ogre-ish thing) journeys cross-country with a wisecracking, fast-talking, borderline-annoying sidekick (of the four-legged, jackass variety, perhaps), stopping for splurges of stand-up comedy and random encounters with curiously anthropomorphized creatures of enchantment.

OK, OK-so I heard you begging me to stop about halfway through that paragraph because, oh, maybe you saw “Shrek” and “Shrek 2” three or four times (or a dozen if you have little nieces and nephews). Prepare yourself, then, for a wallop of dj vu if you find yourself seeing “Open Season,” a vaguely pleasant, but otherwise “been there, done that” computer-animated movie that will occupy the kiddies while their parents try-in vain-to fit the 3-D glasses over their real glasses.

Yes, “Open Season” is being presented in IMAX 3-D form at select Utah theaters, which is how it was presented to the press, much to our chagrin. I’m sorry, but I find 3-D to be more distracting than anything because it calls more attention to the effect instead of immersing people in the story. Movement achieves a sort of stuttering quality, especially during nighttime action scenes in which I could hardly tell what was going on. Boo to the studio reps who forced us to watch this in 3-D, and boo to 3-D in general.

Boooooo?urns!

So anyway, about the reheated plot: Martin Lawrence lends his chill, post-pubescently cracking voice to Boog, a pansy-pawed bear who performs on a unicycle for easily amused crowds in a mountain town not unlike Jackson Hole, Wyo. He’s been raised from cub to chub by Beth, a wholesome and na’ve forest ranger (Debra Messing), who looks a lot like the Man in the Yellow Coat, but with a curly red wig (“Cross-dressing animal handlers-next on Jerry Springer!”).

She takes Boog downtown in the back of her jeep, where he interacts with the locals like an innocuous pet. It’s during one of these trips that Boog meets Elliot, a scrawny, coffee-sipping buck (well-voiced by Ashton Kutcher) that looks an awful lot like Donkey from “Shrek.” Elliot is tied to the hood of a trigger-happy, air-guitar-playing hunter named Shaw (voiced with delirious menace by Gary Sinise), but not for long-Boog cuts him free, which leads to one wacky misunderstanding after another. There’s a funny scene that recalls the shadow puppetry from “Austin Powers” when it appears that Boog is ripping intestines from Elliot’s stomach in front of a horrified audience (it’s actually rope).

That incident forces Beth to leave Boog in the wild, where he mourns the lack of TV and indoor plumbing. Lucky for him, Elliot is there to lead the way back to town while he talks and talks and talks and talks in that incessantly needy, Donkey way. At least Shrek’s Donkey walked like an animal-Elliot walks on two feet like a human without genitals. I fear today’s children will grow up thinking that all animals walk like people and spout out more pop cultural references than any five minutes of “Family Guy.”

Shrek-er, I mean, Boog-hates Elliot at first, but grows to begrudgingly like him. They prattle off loads of buddy dialogue that spins the story’s wheels and pads throughout the running time until the final 20 minutes of the movie, when the hunters arrive (including a vengeful Shaw) and the forest critters fight back.

If you haven’t caught on yet, the point is: So many of the characters and so much of the story seems to be borrowed from other movies, it’s hard not to intuit “Open Season” as a (high-quality) Xerox of its contemporaries-not including the dusty “Braveheart” references, which count as parody and not theft, I guess. Those scenes involve a Scottish squirrel riding a wiener dog into battle, which is actually pretty funny. How can you not laugh at a wiener dog in 3-D?

Or rather, how many times can you laugh at a wiener dog in 3-D?