Without a Paddle

(2004) * Pg-13
93 min. Paramount Pictures. Director: Steven Brill. Cast: Seth Green, Matthew Lillard, Dax Shepard, Ethan Suplee, Abraham Benrubi.

They say that still waters run deep. Suffice it to say that the waters of Without a Paddle are raging. Steven Brill's comedic rethinking of Deliverance—or, perhaps, last year's Wrong Turn—sends three ill-equipped city boys downriver to face adventure, disaster, and themselves.

Matthew Lillard plays Jerry, a man-child who'd rather surf than get serious with his longtime girlfriend. Dan (Seth Green) is a stuffed shirt with a fanny pack and a weakness for sentimental pop music. Tom (Dax Shepard of TV's Punk'd) is a randy daredevil, pathological liar, and confessed luckless gambler. Now 30, the three childhood friends face the untimely death of a fourth buddy, Billy, and the crossroads of childish nostalgia and adult responsibility. As kids, they played A-Team, Ghostbusters, and Star Wars; now, their childhood pledge to go after the lost treasure of '70s hijacker D.B. Cooper provides a vehicle to honor their deceased ringleader.

Armed with a toy Indiana Jones compass, the friends head for the woods (New Zealand stands in for Oregon). Immediately, the cocksure Tom antagonizes the local sheriff, telling him, "I can read a river better than you can read a book." Though they joke to each other, "You got a pretty mouth," their fears of "man rape" intensify as the journey goes south. Ethan Suplee and Abraham Benrubi play the requisite menacing hillbillies, two well-armed pot farmers with dogs named Lynyrd and Skynyrd.

For a while, Without a Paddle coasts on the frothy élan of its easy-riffing stars and the reliable humor of dorky pop-music sing-alongs, but screenwriters Jay Leggett & Mitch Rouse (three others receive story credit) stray from the narrow trail with increasingly desperate attempts to goose the comedy: an attack by a grabby bear, an all-terrain vehicle chase, another lame Matrix bullet-time parody (proof positive of a movie's creative exhaustion), and a convenient run-in with a couple of female tree-huggers. Flower and Butterfly may have furry legs, but they're handy with the poo bombs (don't ask).

Gradually and symbolically, the boys are stripped of everything, including their clothes. Dan moans, "Things are as bad as they can possibly get," and...cue the thunderclap! To survive, the guys reluctantly huddle for warmth. Before these foundlings can be reborn—overcoming their fears and learning their lessons ("Being alive: that's the treasure!"), Burt Reynolds (Deliverance) punches the clock as a trapped-in-the-'70s mountain man who doles out unfashionable togs and imitates JJ "Dyn-o-mite!" Walker. Luckily for Reynolds, he turns up only in the last third of the film. He puts up a brave front, but Without a Paddle is a soggy embarrassment for all involved.

[For Groucho's interview with Matthew Lillard & Dax Shepard, click here.]

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Street date: 5/12/2009

Distributor: Paramount Home Video

Though it's hard to imagine many people jonesin' to upgrade this title, Without a Paddle gets a solid next-gen A/V transfer in its Blu debut. Colors are great, and detail is strong for the most part, with a healthy veneer of film grain keeping the image natural. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is mostly competent but unexciting, though it perks up for the action sequences.

The DVD bonus features return here, beginning with a commentary by director Steven Brill that's strictly for completists (are there Without a Paddle completists?). More lively—and worth a look for its jocular male banter—is the video commentary by Brill, Dax Shepard, Seth Green, and Matthew Lillard.

"MTV's Making the Movie: Without a Paddle" (18:11, SD) is standard promotional fluff, with behind-the-scenes glimpses and interviews with Lillard, Shepard, Green, Brill, stunt coordinator Augie Davis, bear stunt coordinator Doug Seus, Abraham Benrubi, Burt Reynolds, Rachel Blanchard, and Christina Moore.

Thirteen "Additional Scenes" (24:08 with "Play All" option, SD) come with optional commentary by Brill.

Finally, we get six mildly amusing "MTV Interstitials" (2:43, SD) and the film's "Theatrical Trailer" (2:32, SD).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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