Without A Paddle

on August 20, 2004 by Tim Cogshell
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Movies that start in the past (especially the '80s) when the protagonists are children, defining their future selves for the benefit of the audience, are usually bad news; aside from featuring well-worn character clich├ęs, they usually involve morals about growing up, taking responsibility or honoring childhood commitments. In "Without a Paddle," all of these buddy comedy imperatives, along with a few lowbrow gags (one involving poo-bag grenades), are in play. Unexpectedly, the film manages to rise above what it seems to be just enough to achieve something slightly more substantial.

One of the four boys (Dan, Jerry, Tom and Billy) we meet at the beginning of the film is dead by the time the movie transitions to the present day. Though the circumstances of his death are ostensibly funny, the remaining friends (Seth Green, Matthew Lillard and Dax Shepard) are genuinely shaken by the loss of their fourth musketeer. Billy was the smart, brave, successful one, and his dying throws the long-separated friends for a loop. It's as if Moe died and Curly, Larry and Shemp are left to fend for themselves. As they are at crossroads in their lives (a prerequisite of the genre), the remaining three decide to take up the charge of their late friend: Billy has bequeathed to the boys a map to the treasure of '70s icon, D.B. Cooper. For those under 30, Cooper was the guy who stole $200,000 and jumped out of an airplane over Oregon, never to be heard from again. The fact that you have to be over 30 to have ever heard of D.B. Cooper puts a different spin on this comedy from those targeted to a younger audience. This is a formula director Steve Brill has been for working on for a while, with no success. His "Little Nicky" and "Mr. Deeds" (both starring Adam Sandler) were intended for an older dumb movie audience but fell flat with moviegoers of all ages. But "Without a Paddle" manages to find the proper equilibrium. It's a comedy of errors in which, from the moment their canoe hits the river, everything that can go wrong does. They're chased by a bear, hunted by pot-growing rednecks, befriended by tree nymphs and helped by a strange old mountain man (Burt Reynolds)--all just so they can find themselves...and a stack of cash. Decent performances, slightly smart dumb humor and a dash of thirtysomething nostalgia puts "Without a Paddle" a notch above the movie you're probably expecting. Starring Seth Green, Matthew Lillard, Dax Shepard, Burt Reynolds, Rachel Blanchard, Ethan Suplee and Abraham Benrubi. Directed by Steven Brill. Written by Mitch Rouse and Jay Leggett. Produced by Donald De Line. A Paramount release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for drug content, sexual material, language, crude humor and some violence. Running time: 95 min

Tags: Seth Green, Matthew Lillard, Dax Shepard, Burt Reynolds, Rachel Blanchard, Ethan Suplee, Abraham Benrubi, rednecks, friendship, Steven Brill, nature, camping, disaster
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