Friends since childhood, Dan (Seth Green, "The Italian Job"), Jerry (Matthew Lillard, "Scooby-Doo") and Tom (Dax Shepard, "Cheaper by the Dozen") are reunited when the fourth member of their gang, Billy (Anthony Starr), dies tragically young. While taking a trip down memory lane after Billy's funeral, the trio discover that Billy had continued their childhood dream to find the stolen loot of D.B. Cooper, leaving behind a detailed map in the old tree house treasure box. Jerry and Tom convince doubting Dan that the trip must be made, but once they enter the Oregon woods, they find themselves up the creek "Without a Paddle."
It took three guys to come up with this story and another two to write the screenplay? "Without a Paddle" wastes the good nature of its leading men on what is a essentially a long, drawn out comedic take of last year's "Texas Chainsaw" ripoff, "Wrong Turn," except with most of the jokes excised. After seeing Burt Reynolds's name in the opening credits, one anticipates a bit of "Deliverance" parody, but this film is even too witless to make use of advantageous casting.
The usual situations are all trotted out - the ever present threat of homosexuality among male friends, the backwater locals, the unfriendly Sheriff, the run-in with wildlife (Bart the Bear of "Dr. Dolittle 2") and nature (white water rapids) - but even these changes of scenery are abandoned once violent pot farmers Dennis (Abraham Benrubi, "Open Range") and Elwood (Ethan Suplee, "The Butterfly Effect") are riled up. After the boys leave the burning marijuana fields behind them, the second half of "Without a Paddle" is nothing but a boring chase.
Jerry, whose girlfriend Angie (Nadine Bernecker) is tiring of his immature antics, learns the value of settling down (although what about this trip that teaches him this, besides the fact that Angie leaves him while he's away, is never made clear). Dan, a bundle of neuroses, acquires confidence and Tom, a loser with a gambling habit, is made independently wealthy via the kindness of his buds (that'll teach him fiscal responsibility!)
Green, Lillard and Shepard scurry through "Without a Paddle" without engendering too much ill will. Director Steven Brill ("Mr. Deeds") does a nice job establishing their childhood bond in flashback, and the leads build upon that, but Brill thoroughly wastes character actors Benrubi and Suplee, both working far beneath their talents. Female characters are either devoid of humor (Bernecker) or the objects of sexual and gross out humor (Rachel Blanchard, "Road Trip" and Christina Moore as Flower and Butterfly, two tree huggers the lads conveniently run into). And talk about seven years of bad luck - Burt Reynolds has gone from a well-deserved Oscar nomination for 1997's "Boogie Nights" to this.
It may be facile, but "Without a Paddle" is too apt a metaphor for what happens to the direction of this flick to ignore. Bail now.
When three best friends learn of the death of their fourth, Billy (Anthony Starr), they attend the funeral and congregate at the one place they all loved as kids – Billy’s tree house. While going through their boyhood treasures they come across a map that appears to show the location of the landing site of the infamous D.B. Cooper. They band together to find his stolen treasure and journey into the wilds of the Pacific Northwest only to find themselves up the creek “Without a Paddle.”
Someone must have thought that a wilderness road trip movie with Seth Green and Matthew Lillard would be ripe for a slapstick misadventure. Just take the aforementioned actors, mix in a bunch of wacky supporting characters, add a string of goofy circumstances and, voila, you get a fun summer holiday comedy that everyone will enjoy. I didn’t.
Things start off showing the four best friends (as adults played by Green, Lillard, Dax Shepard and Anthony Starr as the late Billy) as they grow up together, graduate school and go their separate ways. Billy is the go-for-the-gusto adventurer who has traveled the world, dying in a parasailing accident in Peru. His friends assemble to salute and say goodbye to their friend, find the map and head off on an adventure. Along the way they meet a hostile town sheriff, two pot-growing mountain men, a rather large bear, a pair of free-spirited beauties out to save the forest and a reclusive mystery man.
Okay, there seems to be enough material here to come up with something funny, say a parody on “Deliverance,” maybe? Nope. What starts out promisingly enough, especially when Bart the Bear makes his appearance and carries off fetal-folded Dan (Green) away as his cub. I even laughed out loud a couple of times. Then, things go down hill fast with the painfully manufactured screenplay by Jay Leggett and Mitch Rouse (from a story by Fred Wolf, Harris Goldberg and Tom Nursall). The movie-by-committee story introduces the wild mountain men, Elwood and Dennis (Ethan Suplee and Abraham Benrubi), as they menacingly frighten the boys while fishing with dynamite. The “Deliverance” possibilities jumped to my mind. Then, the hefty fishermen turn out to be marijuana-growing bad guys with an arsenal of weapons that would make a small army proud. Potential parody becomes a meaningless chase with the bad guys getting their expected comeuppance in the end. Other sequences, especially one with hippie chicks Flower and Butterfly (Rachel Blanchard and Christina Moore), fall flat in their stupidity.
There is one bright note to “Without a Paddle,” though. Newcomer Dax Shepard, from MTV’s “Punk’d,” has a knack for droll, well-delivered comedy. The young actor shows a great deal of potential and is the only good thing about this inane waste of time. Even Burt Reynolds, nearly unrecognizable, is left to hang out to dry. Helmer Steven Brill and company owe me two hours. I give it a D+.
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