Without a Paddle

November 25th, 2004 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Starring: Seth Green, Matthew Lillard, Dax Shepard

Directed by Steven Brill

You might have heard a lot of stories about how this surprise smash hit stayed at the top of the US charts for weeks and therefore think it must be a good movie.

Before you fall for it, look at the economics involved. It’s the final stretch of work and school for people all over the developed world (it was released in its native US in August), the traditionally huge Christmas holidays are weeks away (and will as usual be dominated by Pixar and Disney) and the midyear blockbuster season is months behind us all.

They could release a movie about grass growing right now and it’d race to the top of the charts. There’s nothing else on!

Struggling (and failing) to escape strong typecasting as kids despite their respective ages, Green and Lillard (Shepard isn’t very well known to Australian audiences) do themselves a disservice in playing grown men by falling straight back into the goofy teens’ roles that have made them minor stars.

The three play childhood friends who reunite to attend the funeral of their former fourth member. Instead of mourning, they discover a map said to lead to the treasure of a legendary robber who hid his bounty in a wooded Oregon backwater.

The three man-boys have distinct personalities designed to bounce off each other for maximum comic effect, so when they agree to go looking for the treasure on the trip they never got around to taking as kids, it’s of course a disaster of three modern urban guys who have enough trouble living in human society, let alone the wild.

The major set pieces are all there in the trailer if you can’t be bothered seeing the film — the two hippie girls who seem like a dream come true until the chink is revealed in their armour, the slightly overlong mother bear sequence, and the appearance of Burt Reynolds as a wild-eyed hermit who’s smarter than he lets on.

Borrowing heavily from the aesthetic of Deliverance (even more so because of Reynolds’ presence, this time assuming the role of the inbred bumpkin), but with the dialogue and tone of the American Pie series, it’s as formulaic a teen movie as you’ll see all year.

The ‘serious’ undertone — that you have to live your life by grabbing the bull by the horns — is as misplaced as the southern fried morals in any Disney film, and don’t do much to overshadow the real intentions.

Director Steven Brill (famous for directing most of Adam Sandler’s later films) is more concerned about entertaining us with scenes like the dropping of bombs made out of faeces from a tree onto the yokels whose drug crop the trio have stumbled across.

Then there’s the undercurrent of homophobia that ratchets the whole thing together and makes up the backdrop to any masculine screenplay in republican conservative America — that men would rather die of hypothermia than huddle close together to stay warm. Sure, it’s only a comedy, but see if you can name one western film in the last five years where men touching each other hasn’t been about a fear-of-gay-rape joke.

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