Without a Paddle

A Film Review By The Mike

Rating:PG-13 for Sexual and Drug References
Starring: Matthew Lillard, Dax Shepard, Seth Green
Directed By: Steven Brill

Final Grade:

There’s a moment late in Without a Paddle, the latest MTV Generation comedy that will soon hit megaplexes, when its heavy-handed attempts at drama succeeded in a way few movies had. In that moment, a older, wiser man relays to our heroes that “You can never get wasted time back…Whatever it is you’re looking for, you have to get out there and find it.” I took these words to heart, and thought very hard about leaving the theater. I fully knew (even before this moment) that I was wasting my time, but, for you, I decided to stay for the sake of this review.

Life’s like that sometimes – we have to do things we normally wouldn’t, for the sake of others, even if they don’t benefit us. That’s what ends up happening in this film, where three middle-aged friends unite to go on a backwoods treasure hunt that their recently deceased companion laid out for them nicely. What results is a mixture of jokes about Deliverance and Plot devices from The Goonies, which in total form an uninspired and tiredly plotted drama that takes too much time from the comedic talents of its stars.

These three are played in stereotypical fashion by Seth Green (as the paranoid, worrisome one), Matthew Lillard (as the unsure in romance and work one), and Dax Shepard (as the wild one who’s never settled down in any aspect of life). The performers are adequate for the material, especially in the comedic sense, but when the script takes a more dramatic approach they falter. There’s something about these 28 year olds following the same character arcs as child characters in better films (think Goonies or Stand By Me) that makes the serious aspects seem almost idiotic, and that drags the film down into a state of boringness. This dramatic approach could have worked with a better script and more subdued stars, but these three are too often trying to look funny when it’s clear they should be focusing their energy elsewhere.

The clichés and connections to other plots that fill the script are easy to see, and hence we come to realize each new step in the plot well before our heroes do. The jokes, on the other hand, are often fresh. There’re plenty of solid jabs at the 80’s as we look back on their pasts which will inspire chuckles by most who, like me, grew up idolizing BA Barracus and listening to 38 Special or Culture Club. As I said above, the cast is tailored to these moments. Shepard is particularly adept at delivering solid one-liners and playing off his costars, and makes many of the film’s best quips. An advertised cameo by Burt Reynolds is also a high point, although it comes too late in the film to make a difference.

For Without a Paddle, which succeeds often with its humor, takes itself much to seriously once the heroes’ adventures begin. When a bear attack that results in the bear taking Green away because it confuses him for a cub, and the script plays this straight and turns it into a dramatic scene, I become annoyed. There are many later scenes that play much like this, and many others that simply aren’t funny, which isn’t enough to hold up the occasional zinging one liner (My personal favorite is when Green’s character hears music in the distance and proclaims: “It sounds like Creed!”, to which Shepard replies “I never thought I’d be so happy to hear something that sounds like Creed!”).
I’ll give the film credit for getting off to a good start, and for the first thirty minutes the film’s apparent brain and heart pleasantly surprised me. But time is not kind to this one, and by the end you’ll find yourself laughing less and less, and wondering whether or not you really need to see the rest. It’s not an inherently stupid comedy, which is what I expected, but it’s by no means a good one either. It’s just a time waster.

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