It's a raccoon's world and we're just living in it. That's the impression Brendan Fraser is getting from journalists visiting the Toronto hotel suite where he and co-star Brooke Shields are chatting up Furry Vengeance. The new family slapstick features a crafty raccoon who mobilizes an army of woodland critters to torment the hapless supervisor of a supposedly "eco-friendly" housing development.
"Everybody coming in here has a raccoon story," remarks Fraser, familiar with the nocturnal activities of the city's booming raccoon population from his high-school days at Upper Canada College. He eagerly shares a story about a raccoon dumping boulders into a friend's fish pond to raise the water level. "The fish kept disappearing," he laughs. "I can just see the raccoon working out Wile E. Coyote diagram schematics."
Indeed, Fraser knows a thing or two about cartoon characters. He has portrayed them ( George of the Jungle, Dudley Do-Right), shared the screen with them ( Looney Tunes: Back in Action) and even played a cartoonist ( Monkeybone). And while his roles in independent dramas such as Gods and Monsters, The Quiet American and Crash have earned him critical kudos, he is best known for CGI-laden blockbuster action flicks such as The Mummy trilogy and, most recently, Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
"Oh yes, monkeys, animals, puppets, mummys - you name it, I'm that guy," Fraser bellows. "I'm the go-to CG guy."
Weeks before principal shooting began on Furry Vengeance, a separate unit set up camp to train the critters. Because the numerous live-animal scenes were filmed separately and laid in during editing, Fraser's "CG" acting chops were well used - with impressive results, considering the non-stop string of humiliations his character endures.
"To do it right, you have to be missing one of those psychological filters, and it's fair to say if you believe what you're doing, then so will the audience," he explains. "And it makes it easier for the post-production guys too, because otherwise you end up with weird-looking eye lines."
And speaking of eye lines, Fraser, 41, says he met his match in celebrity actor, entrepreneur and author Shields, 44, who plays his character's wife: "Aside from being nice to have around and beautiful and everything, Brooke is the first actress I've worked with who didn't have to stand on an apple box with her name on it - and how refreshing is that?"
Their chummy rapport in the interview suite reflects their convincing onscreen mom-dad chemistry. And it's clear that the pair not only had plenty of fun on the set but also appreciated the rigour and imagination director Roger Kumble ( Cruel Intentions, College Road Trip) brought to what, the actors seem to hint, was a thin screenplay.
"Roger asked a lot more from the actors than what was on the page," says the elegantly attired Shields, the film's "straight man," who nevertheless had a few choice pratfalls and hamburger flung at her face. "His approach was to do the comedy wholeheartedly, there isn't this 'wink wink, we know we're acting stupid' attitude that ruins a lot of comedies."
Grownups may get a kick out of performances from scene-stealing Ken Jeong ( The Hangover) and The Daily Show's Samantha Bee, but it's Fraser's job to keep the kids in stitches. "I get trapped in a port-a-potty, and did you see the size of the gut I was sporting?" he says. "I'm not pretending this picture is anything different than what it is - the laughs are there and if one doesn't work, there's going to be another one in two seconds."
Fraser became involved with Furry Vengeance well before shooting. Producer Bob Simonds, whom he had known since Airheads (1994), asked him to serve as an executive producer; the script, Fraser says, needed work. "Being a producer, I don't have the stigma of 'Oh, wow, listen to the talking prop' when I have ideas. So it allowed me to develop an early rapport with the studio and with Roger."
Fraser was most impressed by Kumble's notion to treat the slapstick comedy like a horror film. "His premise was this obscure Ozploitation film called Long Weekend about a couple who are cranky with each other and decide to go camping," Fraser relates. "They take out their anger on nature by running over kangaroos and firing guns into the ocean at sharks. So nature gets pissed off and starts burning things and taking its revenge on them.
"This is not that movie, but it's all in the title [speaking with mock theatrical emphasis] Furry Vengeance."
Special to The Globe and Mail