Paramount // 2004 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // May 18th, 2009
The call of the wild. The thrill of adventure. The mistake of a lifetime.
The "fish out of water" film has long been a staple of cinematic comedy. This is especially true across the city/country divide. Whether it's taking a loinclothed savage to the big metropolis or the uptight businessman to the woods, the juxtaposition is ripe for humor. One example I initially skipped over was Without a Paddle, but thanks to a Blu-ray release, I've had the chance to experience this little film. Although I'm not blown out of the water, Without a Paddle has a lot more charm than I would expect from this kind of film.
As children, Tom (Dax Shepard, Employee of the Month), Jerry (Matthew Lillard, SLC Punk), Dan (Seth Green, The Italian Job), and Billy (Antony Starr, In My Father's Den) were the best of friends, always dreaming of going on an adventure to find the missing treasure of D.B. Cooper. Ten years after they part, Billy dies suddenly and the gang is brought back together again. Tom has done nothing with his life but cause trouble, Jerry has an unsatisfying office job but lives to surf, while Dan has built a successful practice as a doctor. While exploring their old treehouse the trio discovers that Billy may have located D.B.'s treasure, so they decide to take a week off and take a trip to find the missing cash. Naturally things don't go so well in nature and the group must contend with a bear, wild rapids, and pot-growing hillbillies.
Let's get one thing straight: there's really nothing new in Without a Paddle; from the inbred jokes to the canoe accidents to the hicks hiding pot fields, everything about this flick has been done before, and most often better. I could see the gray hair on some of the jokes. However, despite the rather trite setup, the obvious conclusion, and the tired comedy, I enjoyed Without a Paddle quite a bit more than I expected to for a number of reasons.
The lion's (or perhaps in this case the bear's) share of the credit goes to the three leads: Lillard, Green, and Shepard. These guys are willing to go all the way with their performances. While none of them does anything particularly crazy, they all seem game for whatever the script has to throw at them (or whatever the script makes them throw, which includes bags of feces in one scene). All of them have good comic timing, and all of them are equally adept at making the more serious stuff believable.
It's the more serious stuff that makes this so-so comedy stand out. Without a Paddle has a message, and although it's a simple one, it's also one most people can get behind: carpe diem. In this film that means appreciating your friends, embracing what you love, and being thankful for what you have. Thankfully, this message only really comes to the fore in the last act so the film doesn't come off as preachy. Instead, our comic trio actually learns something from wilderness escapades (unlike so many other generic comedies), and the last 20 minutes or so get to be funny and a little poignant.
For a film that didn't exactly light up the box office, Without a Paddle gets a surprisingly decent Blu-ray release. As befits a film of recent vintage, Without a Paddle is free of serious transfer or print problems. This is a nice, bright film, and color saturation, along with detail, was generally excellent. Audio was strong as well, with good balance and clarity. This is a pretty straightforward comedy, so don't expect a lot of surround involvement.
For extras we get two different commentaries. The first features the director sharing more sober production stories. The second is a video commentary with the cast and director is a free-for-all with jokes and asides as the group reminisces about the film. For more production info, we get the MTV making-of about the film, as well as a bunch of interstitials that promoted the movie. Finally, we get thirteen deleted scenes with optional commentary.
As I said, a couple of things keep Without a Paddle from being a great comedy. The big one is what I mentioned before: there's nothing new here. Because most viewers will see plot twists coming very early, which means that it's harder to stick with the film. The other big problem is that the film is PG-13. I'm not saying the flick should have been a raunch-fest, but a little bit of nudity, some more cursing, and a generally more "out there" approach might have helped the film over the "ho-hum" hump.
Without a Paddle is a decent little comedy: nothing special, but not nearly as horrible as it could have been, given the premise. This is a strong Blu-ray release that provides improved audio and video, even if it only duplicates the original DVD extras.
For being just a little bit different, Without a Paddle is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes