Without A Paddle Review
In 1971, a man called DB Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727, extorted $200,000 from the airline and jumped out of the plane somewhere over the state of Oregon with a parachute and the money strapped to his body. Neither he nor the cash were ever seen again. Whether Cooper escaped with it or died in the attempt is anyone's guess but he became a legend in the annals of American crime and countless treasure hunters have combed the forests of the north west, hoping to find his loot. For Jerry, Dan, Tom and Billy, four kids growing up in Oregon in the 1980s, DB Cooper was as much a part of their childhood as Indiana Jones and Ghostbusters. They pored over maps in their treehouse and swore a blood oath that when they were old enough, they'd go and find the treasure.
Of course they grew up and forgot all about it. Today, Jerry (Matthew Lillard) is a businessman bored with his job and unwilling to commit to his long-suffering girlfriend, Dan (Seth Green) is a doctor but he's also a snivelling nerd who is afraid of cling film and Tom (Dax Shepard) is a reckless, overgrown adolescent. The only one of the group who's made a success of his life is Billy but he's tragically killed in an accident and it's his funeral that brings the other three together for the first time in years. Reminiscing about their youth and digging out their old maps, they decide it would be fun to drive up into the mountains, rent a canoe and find out if their childhood theories about DB's money were correct. It's supposed to be a fun weekend but the three city boys don't know much about the country and they certainly haven't reckoned on facing deadly rapids, a rampaging bear, gun-toting hillbillies and a fearsome mountain man.
The second movie about treasure hunters to open in a week, Without A Paddle has as much action and mayhem as National Treasure but while the Nicolas Cage film plays it mostly straight, this one decides to go the comedy route. Actually it decides to go the route of a specific comedy: City Slickers, the 1991 hit about three old friends who try to perk up their lives with an outdoors adventure and get more than they bargained for. Without A Paddle plays like a Generation X version of City Slickers, set in the woods instead of the prairies and with its own brand of slapstick comedy replacing the tart one-liners of the Billy Crystal vehicle. At times it follows its inspiration a little too slavishly: the three heroes are too similar to Crystal and his pals (even down to the hero learning to appreciate what he has back home) and Burt Reynolds turns up playing a character not a million miles from Jack Palance's grizzly old cowboy. Still, if you're going to model your film on an earlier one - and most movies do these days - better it be City Slickers than Charlie's Angels.
That observation aside, Without A Paddle is the acceptable face of dumb mainstream comedy. It's mindless but not mindlessly formulaic and it has some of the ramshackle appeal and eagerness to please of Broken Lizard's Super Troopers. It helps that the three stars are easy to like. Matthew Lillard (Shaggy from Scooby-Doo) and Seth Green (Scott Evil from Austin Powers) are two of the best comedy actors of their generation while Dax Shepard of MTV's Punk'd acquits himself well as the third member of the trio. Most importantly, the laughs are there and in enough abundance to keep you smiling through the slower parts - and the second half could have used much stricter editing. Most of the jokes are as cheap and silly as you'd expect but every now and then, there are moments of sly wit that come out of nowhere. Like when one of the inbred hillbillies recognises a Culture Club song the boys are singing and explains to his puzzled partner, "I had a new wave phase".