Without a Paddle
An occasionally very funny movie that tries way too hard to teach life lessons to its three white-bread heroes.
Nice guy Jerry (Matthew Lillard), is the same numbingly trite character we've seen in hundreds of other movies. He faces 30 with uncertainty. He doesn't know if he should propose to his beautiful girlfriend Denise (Bonnie Somerville). He just can't commit, darn it! Oh, life is so confusing! Meeting up with his best buds Tom ''the rebel'' (Dax Shepard) and Dan ''the runt'' (Seth Green) at the funeral of their dead friend Billy, they reunite in the-what else?--tree house of their youth. There they discover a map of Billy's longtime obsession: The disappearance of hijacker D.B. Cooper with $200,000 cash. (Never mind that the real Cooper's flight took off in 1971, well before any of these characters would be born.) So these three friends set out on an expedition from the heart, and learn a few valuable life lessons along the way. They embark on a canoe trip in the Pacific Northwest in search of Cooper's lost treasure, with a very large bear and two even larger hillbillies in hot pursuit. Which is of course, just a big excuse for some crazy hijinks in the woods, the obligatory stoner sequence, gorgeous but unshaven tree-huggers living atop a redwood, a crazed mountain man, the usual.
Lillard has an off-kilter charm that works in his supporting roles, but not so much as the lead. One imagines the producers offering the role first to Adam Sandler, and then to Vince Vaughn or Luke Wilson, before finally settling on Lillard after they all refuse. His overbearing earnestness in the role recalls his work in SLC Punk, straining for normalcy when something completely off-the-wall would work so much better. Shepard (from MTV's Punk'd) fares better, he is amusingly annoying, but at least he takes a side. Green is usually funnier than this, but he doesn't usually have to lug an inhaler around with him as a prop, or constantly stoop for laughs as the token scaredy cat. The three of them do have an easygoing chemistry that makes them good company. Burt Reynolds turns up with a foot-long beard as the mountain man who might know something about the treasure. It is certainly the most vanity free performance of Reynolds' career, and while it doesn't amount to much, it's a step in the right direction for a guy who could still be a great character actor if he could finally get over the fact that he is no longer Stroker Ace.
Steven Brill is best known as the director of the first Adam Sandler movie that didn't reach nine figures at the box office, Little Nicky, and he hasn't exactly advanced the art of screen comedy here. Nevertheless, the pacing is brisk, the timing is crisp, and the repartee (credited to five writers) is snappy. Even the action comedy sequences, mostly running away from the bear and the hillbillies, are convincingly done. But make no mistake, this is clearly the work of a man hell-bent on paying homage to The Goonies, and for that miniscule target audience that not only saw The Goonies in the theater, it can also differentiate the Coreys. Of course, '80s music has been back in vogue for several years, so it's inevitable that the '80s comedy, embodied in this movie, The Girl Next Door,
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and others, would return. But somebody had better make a good one soon, or it will disappear faster than you can say Kajagoogoo.
While sporadically hilarious, Without a Paddle is a regurgitation of every fish-out-of-water comedy since 1987. Even still, it would make for a funny and frequent rental, if the audience it was intended for wasn't nearing 40 years old.