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Movie Reviews:

Friday, September 03, 2004

Without a Paddle

Road trip movies have been something of an obsession of mine for a few years now, largely because it's a past-time I enjoy quite a bit myself. Maybe it's a guy thing (though I doubt it), but there's just something unquestionably appealing about the idea of some friends out on the road, leaving behind all their cares and worries as they try to enjoy life one moment at a time... even if it's only for a few days. And it's a good thing I have this obsession, too, because otherwise I never would have seen Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, which remains the funniest movie I've seen all year.

Strictly speaking, Without a Paddle isn't a road trip movie. Rather it's a canoe trip movie. Or perhaps a camping movie, or a friends-adventure movie. Regardless, the theme is still the same: it's a movie about friendship, about life, about not taking things too seriously, and about growing up (even if you're already all grown-up). Thus, I knew as soon as I saw the preview for this movie that I'd have to see it. Particularly after the homoerotic cave-huddle seen in said preview.

The story follows the adventures of Tom (Dax Shepard), Jerry (Matthew Lillard), and Dan (Seth Green), childhood friends reunited again in their adult lives after the death of their adventurous friend, Billy. Each of the friends has his own set of problems, though they all relate to fear (fear of responsibility, fear of taking risks, fear of never achieving any kind of success), and while walking down memory lane they discover that, prior to his death, Billy had planned one last adventure for them all: to find the lost treasure of famed airline hijacker D. B. Cooper, who was believed to have parachuted to his death and lost the $200,000 he stole during his final heist. Partly as tribute to their lost friend, and partly just to take advantage of what would likely be the last chance they had to do something supremely stupid, they decide to take the trip Billy had planned and embark on the adventure they'd always dreamed about having when they were young. As always happens by the end of the movie, by the time their adventures are over they learn to appreciate life just a little bit more, they discover just how important friends are, and they figure out how to overcome their fears.

Not necessarily in that order.

There are a lot of good things that can be said about this movie. The acting is one. I've been a bit of a fan of Seth Green since his days on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I've long felt that he's much more skilled than most people give him credit for. As always his comedic timing is spot-on, but playing an uptight neurotic, asthmatic doctor was a refreshing change of role for someone who's usually saddled with the role of the laid-back, sarcastic smart ass. Similarly, were I the director I probably would have reversed the roles of Dax Shepard and Matthew Lillard, since that would have seemed a better fit to me. I also would have been wrong in that decision -- though somewhat against type for what I've seen from both of these actors (particularly Lillard), it worked well.

Though he only had a small role, Burt Reynolds was, as always, a treat to see on the screen. Another definite point in the movie's favour. The movie also shows a bit of innovation in providing the movie with bonafide villains -- somewhat a-typical of road trip movies. (Again, I'm aware this wasn't technically a road trip movie, but it was close enough for me. It's the spirit of the thing that matters!)

However, there are also some bad things that can be said about the movie. One shouldn't watch this movie expecting much in the way of cerebral humour; most of it is decidedly low-brow. Personally, I don't find scatalogical humour all that funny -- it's usually only good for a cheap laugh, and it always disappoints me when a script stoops to shoot for a cheap laugh.

I'm also pretty bloody sick of scenes that parody the Matrix. It wasn't so long ago that every single bloody comedy that was coming out had to have a classic Matrix "bullet-time" parody sequence, but I thought we were past this. For shame, Hollywood, for shame.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to say this movie wasn't funny. It most decidedly was. It's just it wasn't so funny for me as it could have been, had the scriptwriter put a little bit more effort into the comedy.

Without a Paddle strives to be more than merely a comedy. There are moments when the director might as well be loudly declaring to the audience, "Hey, look, I've got a THEME I'm working with over here!" This is a frequent mistake of movie-makers (the classic Ed Wood bungle, in fact): Trying to make a movie more than it deserves. The movie suffers a bit as a result, but luckily it stays within its proper boundaries most of the time, so it doesn't ruin the thing.

Overall? It's a pretty average comedy. Certainly not the same calibre as Harold and Kumar (can you tell I really liked that movie?), but nevertheless worth a lark or three. At the very least, a decent rental some evening when you've little better to do. In the final tally, it gets three of out five Cute White Rats. (Normally it would have been worth only two-and-a-half, but Burt Reynolds in a comedy is worth half a CWR all on his own.)

3 CWRs

Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 8:15 PM


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