Without a Paddle review by Mike Long

This is going to sound very hypocritical, but I'm ready to give up on mainstream film critics...at least when it comes to comedies. It seems that about 75% of the time, when a comedy has been savaged by critics, I find it entertaining. This goes beyond the assumption that these critics only like "highbrow" films. I often have to wonder if they have any sense of humor whatsoever. A case in point is the film Without A Paddle. To be fair, this movie isn't the end all-be all, but it made me laugh. And isn't that the important thing?

Without A Paddle focuses on four childhood friends, Dan (Seth Green), Jerry (Matthew Lillard), Tom (Dax Shepard), and Billy (Antony Starr). This quartet was inseparable as children, but they have drifted apart as they've entered adulthood. Dan is now a doctor and quite neurotic. Jerry has a corporate job and a girlfriend, but he may lose both due to the fact that he'd rather be surfing. Tom is a slacker who drifts in and out of trouble. And Billy has become an adventurer. Dan, Jerry, and Tom are brought together again when they learn that Billy has died. After the funeral, the trio begin to reminisce and, after rummaging through their old clubhouse, remember that they'd once planned to look for the lost treasure of infamous 70's hijacker D.B. Cooper. As a tribute to Billy, they decide to take a trip into the wilds of Oregon to look for the treasure. Once they enter the wilderness, Dan, Jerry, and Tom find nothing but trouble, as they must battle a raging river, and many other dangers, both natural and human.

As with the recently reviewed Little Black Book , Without A Paddle brings a little more to the table than the average comedy, although it is much dumber than the aforementioned film. The movie does a surprisingly good job of mixing sophomoric humor with a more serious side, as the characters deal with the death of their friend and consider their childhood memories. Director Steven Brill has worked with Adam Sandler in the past (he directed Mr. Deeds and Little Nicky), so he's been around someone who has shown an ability to mix crazy humor and heart. But, let's not over-state the seriousness of this film, as it's not Stand by Me or The Big Chill. The vibe in Without A Paddle is closer to that of Old School, as it examines the way that males attempt to re-claim their childhoods by doing very silly things.

And it's those silly things which dominate Without A Paddle. The "journey down the river" plot is merely an excuse for the trio to run into a series of threats. The movie exists for the simple reason for the guys to become involved in crazy situations which become odder and odder as the movie progresses. The movie is somewhat predictable and even at 98 minutes, some of the gags run a bit long. However, the movie is funny -- but probably not for the reasons that many would expect. The broad, physical jokes (many of which appeared in the trailer) are somewhat humorous, but there are many great lines in the film which deliver the true laughs. The dependable Seth Green provides many good moments, but it's Dax Shepard (who was unknown to me before seeing Without A Paddle) steals the show and has at least two of the best lines in the film. Once again, I'm not sure what critics were looking for. Without A Paddle isn't a classic, but it has some truly funny moments. This is the kind of simple, silly comedy that I love...and maybe I'm alone in that.

Without A Paddle rows onto DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate versions, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The DVD offers a very nice transfer, which is clear and sharp. The image shows virtually no grain and offers a nice amount of depth. The colors are fantastic, as the lush green New Zealand locations look great here. The transfer does show some artifacting and there is a hint of haloing, but otherwise, it looks fine. The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue with no hissing or distortion. The dialogue sounds fine and the scenes on the river provide an abundance of surround sound and subwoofer effects. Also, the music in the film sounds very good.

The Without A Paddle DVD has a nice selection of extra features. Director Seven Brill provides an OK audio commentary. He speaks at length about the film's production and provides some insight into his working relationship with the actors. But, he also rambles at times and spends a lot of time talking about the things that he doesn't know or the things that he's never done. I'm sure that when he heard the commentary for the first time, he wondered why he admitted those things. There is an additional commentary which features Brill, Seth Green, Matthew Lillard, and Dax Shepard. This is a "Video Commentary", which means that every few minutes a small picture-in-picture box appears in the top right corner of the screen which lets us see the group recording the tracks. 32 minutes into the track, Brill leaves and actors Ethan Suplee and Abraham Benrubi joins the group. This is a very fun commentary track, as the group reminisces about their times in New Zealand and constantly make fun of one another.

"MTV's Making the Movie: Without A Paddle" (18 minutes) is, of course, very slickly produced and contains many clips. It also has many comments from the cast & crew and some behind-the-scenes footage. The segment examines the cast and characters, as well as the stuntwork on the river. The DVD contains 13 "Additional Scenes", which total some 24 minutes. There is a PLAY ALL option, and the scenes can be viewed with commentary from Brill. There is some funny stuff here, but it's clear why most were cut. Also funny are the "MTV Interstitials", which are six very brief segments which contain footage not seen in the film. The extras are rounded out by the "Theatrical Trailer" for Without A Paddle, which is letterboxed at 1.85:1.

6 out of 10 Jackasses

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