Movies Without a Paddle (PG-13)

Three guys honor their dead friend by taking a camping trip, having a few laughs, learning a few things about themselves but primarily boring the pants off us in Without a Paddle.

Billy (Anthony Starr), Tom (Dax Shepard), Jerry (Matthew Lillard) and Dan (Seth Green) have been friends since their years playing Indiana Jones and doing tricks on bikes. After seeing each other only periodically since college, the boys come together again when they hit 30. Unfortunately for Billy, itís at his funeral. Though Billy was a big success and even died while engaging in some extreme-sporty activity, the other three boys have only found moderate life happiness. Dan is a doctor, but a short, shy one who has a collection of phobias and an inability to take any kind of chance. Jerry has a nice girlfriend, an OK job and a nifty hobby (surfing) but feels a general sense of ennui. Tom is a complete screw-up who has been in an assortment of trouble and hasnít done much beyond party.

Looking to shake up their lives, the three boys decide to take a camping trip/Goonies-style treasure hunt which requires them to canoe into the in wilderness. As they travel, they talk about the direction their lives have taken, they pee off the boat and they drink beer. All is well until a bear shows up at their campsite and eats their map, causing them to get lost on the river and wind up on the wrong side of a couple of pot-growing rednecks.

There is one point in movie where the boys, early in their trip, are singing some of the greatest hits of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Seth Green breaks into a few Dr. Dre lyrics and, giving off that shy Seth Green smile, is completely believable and natural. Itís a moment so authentic that it seems like a really good outtake the editor wisely decided to keep. His singing, the first two or three lines after heís doneóthatís guys. Thatís banter. Thatís people talking. Everything else in this movie feels false and hollow. Far from sounding like actual guys goofing around, the dialogue sounds like it is being read phonetically. The actors seem so unfamiliar with it we get the sense that even they donít understand the words theyíre speaking.

This is a movie that absolutely depends on our belief that these are three real guys. The movie goes to some effort, minimal though it may be, to try to give us a little flesh on the bones of these characters early on. Yet, the deeper we get into the story, the less dimensional these characters seem (this being entirely the opposite of the direction youíd want to go with character development). The result is that we are actually less interested in the three men by the end of the story than we are at the beginning. And I didnít think I could get less interested than I was in the beginning.

The other direction this movie could have gone was full-on comedyóbut it didnít try that either. Despite some rather predictable sophomoric humor, Without a Paddle is surprisingly heavy on the hugging and learning. Too bad some of that learning couldnít have been about how to write a script.

óAmy Diaz


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