Without A Paddle Review

John Boorman had the right idea back in 1972. Camping trips are bad. Banjos + woodland = ass-rape. So, let that be a lesson to all of us. Filmmakers certainly took it to heart, since they’ve pillaged Boorman’s Deliverance for decades. However, the latest imitation isn’t a horror film, or psychological thriller. Instead, it’s a comedy (or as some critics have pointed-out, a spoof of such stories). To nail the point further, director Steven Brill has cast the long-suffering Burt Reynolds in a cameo role. As you’d expect, Without a Paddle plays like every comedic scenario you’ve ever seen...and removes everything that was good about them in the first place. It does, however, leave out the ass-raping. I don’t think the MTV-generation is quite ready for that...

As the film opens, we meet a cluster of adventurous kids. They are the protagonists of our story, and for a few brief moments, Brill had me intrigued - his faux-documentary style here, only helps to spark memories of my own childhood shenanigans. There’s the geek; the rogue; the comedian, and the adventurer. As the credits draw to a close, we meet them all grown-up. They haven’t changed. Tom (Punk’d’s Dax Shepard) is the group’s “comedian”, a womanising idiot, whose main aspirations in life amount to beer and pussy. He’s my kinda guy. Then, there’s Jerry (Matthew Lillard), an obsessive surfer, who is stuck with a boring job, and a nagging girlfriend. Dan (Seth Green) is the group nerd, who as you’d expect, is afraid of just about everything. But a member has departed from their Goonies-esque posse - the adventurous Billy has died, after a rather perilous trip to the Himalayas. This assembles the group for a funeral, and their camaraderie is rekindled.

Naturally, the film needs an excuse to cut to the woodland setting, so Brill and his screenwriters have concocted a poorly-sketched treasure story. As kids, the group were told about the legendary criminal D.B. Cooper, whose plane went down in the forest - with his stolen money inside. After coming across their old treehouse, the guys find a map. Billy had left them this document to find Cooper’s treasure. Naturally, they feel obliged to pursue the loot. Soon enough, they’re out in the open, getting ravaged by bears, local hillbillies, and the elements. Anyone who saw the greatly underrated John Candy comedy The Great Outdoors, should feel a nagging sense of familiarity here. Needless to say, that did it better.

The script offers some truly ridiculous scenarios for the characters. The set pieces are also remarkably tired. First, they end up hitting the rapids, and going over a waterfall in their raft. Seen it. Then, they are pursued by a pair of weed-farmers (Ethan Suplee and Abraham Benrubi), who are deeply-accented locals with rifles. Seen that, too. And much later on, the group need to huddle together after losing their clothes, in a moment of homophobic “humour”. Jesus. When a film is so starved of original ideas, it really makes you wonder how people could dismiss films like The Matrix Reloaded or Hulk with such zest. This, my friends, is the nadir of cinema. And the filmmakers know it.

Yet, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to liking some of Without a Paddle. There are moments that tickled my funny bone. The scene in which Tom, Dan and Jerry happen across the forest of weed is pretty inspired. Chased by those hillbillies, they accidentally set fire to the crop, making them stoned as they try to escape. There’s also the prospect of some beautiful psirens (one of whom, is Road Trip’s Rachel Blanchard), who have astonishingly-hairy legs. Lest we forget, that the forest isn’t the best place for personal maintenance. Yet, the writers don’t run with the fun and quirky moments in this film, and decide to concentrate on the inane instead. There’s one sequence involving bags of poop being thrown at the enemy, which is a good indication of how daft Without a Paddle is.

The cast just about save the film from total oblivion. I’ve always liked Green in whatever he does. In fact, I’d call myself a fan. Here, the actor tries his best to overcome the weak script, and add some subtle nuances to his stereotypical role. (His impersonation of C-3PO could use some work though). Lillard is his typical self - often OTT, and a little goofy. Yet, his presence is welcome. As for Shepard, I don’t really understand why he’s so popular lately. His work with Ashton Kutcher was often amusing, but the film doesn’t really capitalise on whatever talent he has. One reviewer described him as a “laid-back Pauly Shore”. I doubt that was a compliment. Which leaves us with Reynolds, who uses his experience to offer the films only memorable performance. Under make-up, he’s barely recognisable as a hermit living in the woods. He appears to be enjoying himself, even if the audience isn’t.

Therefore, I can’t really recommend Without a Paddle to anyone looking for an intelligent experience. Brill’s competent direction keeps the film moving along swiftly, and it might appeal to those who appreciated flicks like Dude, Where’s My Car? or - gulp! - Bio Dome. Yet, when the films over, you’ll probably just return it to the bottom of the rental shelf. Perhaps it’ll give Welcome to Mooseport some much-needed company...

The Disc

I wasn’t expecting anything fancy for Without a Paddle’s digital debut, but the disc isn’t all that bad. Paramount have seemingly improved on their R1 equivalent (which got awful reviews on a technical front), and given those interested a nice slew of extras to sample.

The Look and Sound

The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), and looks pretty good. The American disc was attacked for having poor colour, low detail, and a generally muggy image. While the PAL alternative is far from perfect, I didn’t encounter any serious problems like that. Detail is fair, and the colours are vibrant, with pleasing skin tones and shading. The picture is pretty sharp overall, though grain is persistent (especially in some of the darker scenes), and there’s a spot of artefacing. Otherwise, the transfer passes the test.

Audio comes in Dolby Digital 5.1, and it’s an above-average mix. Comedy films are infamous for providing low-key soundtracks, but this one manages to keep you engaged (that’s if the story hasn’t sent you to sleep). Surround activity is low to none-existent, but is pretty great when it needs to be (such as the rapid sequence, or the chase during the weed forest). Dialogue is clear - a little too-clear, given the location - and there’s a great deal of inventive sound effects to liven the mood. A good transfer overall.

Bonus Material

This one-disc edition includes the following features:

Audio Commentary by director Steven Brill

The first of two yack-tracks is probably the weakest of the two, but Brill (who is a veteran of Adam Sandler comedies) offers some intriguing factoids. He highlights many of the references to previous films, discusses the story, and how he treated the cast. Though, his memories of the location are more amusing. The film was shot in New Zealand, which doubled for the wilds of Oregon. Therefore, many of the crew had worked on the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Between interesting facts like this, the track can be pretty dull, so only die-hard Without a Paddle fans should bother.

Audio Commentary with the director and cast

Joining Brill for this “video commentary”, is Green, Lillard, Shepard, Ethan Suplee and Abraham Benrubi. This is much better. This track is definitely more entertaining than the film, and makes the viewing much easier to take. There is plenty of joking, and mutual backslapping throughout. It’s light on insight, but big on belly laughs. As for the “video” function, a small window will appear from time to time with footage of the group recording their commentary. Neat.

The rest of the disc is largely filler. “Making the Movie: Without a Paddle” is the episode of an MTV show covering the movie. It's much better than I expected with plenty of behind-the-scenes bits and secrets. That said, the cast seem to think they’re in a memorable movie, with some wildly good-natured comments. Still, it’s a decent featurette. Following this, is a batch of deleted scenes, which are mostly extended takes of footage in the movie. Curiously, Matthew Lillard features heavily here, with a lot of his characterisation biting the dust. Last, but not least, we get the theatrical trailer.

The Bottom Line

Without a Paddle doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. It’s just happy being mediocre. Some people will no doubt find it hilarious, but it didn’t strike a chord with me. On the plus side, Paramount’s disc is pretty good, giving the film some rental status. See it if you must...

"Without a Paddle" is available from the 18th April

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