THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Without a Paddle has been described as City Slickers meets Deliverance. It begins promisingly, with old movie footage of four young boys pretending to be Indiana Jones and the Ghostbusters. (That brings back a few fond memories.) We can tell that these kids spent many hours together, dreaming of adventures much bigger than themselves.

We meet them more fully as grown-ups. Jerry (Matthew Lillard) is a serious commitment-phobe, struggling to keep his relationship intact. Dan (Seth Green) is a doctor and also an extreme worrier; just about anything will cause him to panic. No one knows what Tom (Dax Shepard) does because he pathologically lies. When the fourth member of the group, Billy, dies unexpectedly, the remaining three reunite at the funeral. There, they decide to honor Billy’s memory by fulfilling a childhood promise. This involves going into the Oregon woods and trying to find the lost treasure of D.B. Cooper.

(For those uninitiated with Cooper, he was a real-life bank robber who disappeared with a stash of loot after parachuting out of an airplane.)

Jerry, Tom, and Dan follow a map that Billy left behind, apparently having figured out where the treasure was. They hop in a canoe and plunge down the rapids. Of course, the canoe crashes, leaving them stranded. As they attempt to locate civilization, they have a series of wacky encounters with a bear, a pair of homicidal marijuana farmers (Abraham Benrubi and Ethan Supplee), some hippie tree-huggers (Rachel Blanchard and Christina Moore), and a mountain man (Burt Reynolds). Over the course of their adventures, the bonds of friendship grow stronger, and each character learns an Important Lesson that will make him a better person.

The strong suit of Without a Paddle is the cast. The three main actors elevate the material, which is often overly broad in its humor. I’ve always thought that Matthew Lillard has real leading-man possibilities. He is usually called upon to play loudmouths (Scream) or doofuses (Scooby-Doo). Lillard has a range, though, as anyone who saw his work in the underrated SLC Punk can attest. He’s good here, playing more of a “normal guy” character than he’s ever had the chance to before. Seth Green – always a reliable comic actor – gets some laughs as well. Although I didn’t exactly buy him as a doctor (he still looks about 12), Green has solid comedic timing. Dax Shepard (TV’s “Punk’d”) is a newcomer to me, and he avoids making Tom too obnoxious, which a lot of actors probably would have. Some of the predicaments the characters get themselves into are amusing; others are lame. The actors approach the material with energy, however, which makes the film watchable.

Without a Paddle is a very stupid movie, but surprisingly, the stupidity didn’t bother me. With this cast, I’d have been perfectly content to sit back and enjoy some old-fashioned mindless stupidity. What bothered me was that Without a Paddle could never make up its mind about what it wants to be. If it wanted to be a dumb comedy, they should have axed all the touchy-feely male bonding stuff. On the other hand, if they wanted to make a movie about the emotional ties between friends, they should have scrapped all the nonsense about finding D.B. Cooper’s treasure.

It’s really that simple. There’s nothing more to say. With either route, a better movie would no doubt have been possible. The filmmakers needed to either play it totally smart, or play it totally dumb. Trying to do both only leaves Without a Paddle up a certain unnamed creek.

( out of four)

Without a Paddle is rated PG-13 for drug content, sexual material, language, crude humor and some violence. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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