Without A Paddle

Buddy comedy / Deliverance crossover, amiable enough but never funny enough.

Released in 2004, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 06 Jan 2005 by Scott Morris
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When their old mate Billy buys the farm, three friends reunite to undertake an oft spoken about treasure hunt Billy had planned but the gang had never executed. To honour his memory and reaffirm their friendship, workaday salaryman Jerry (Matthew Lillard), neurotic doctor Dan (Seth Green) and professional layabout Tim (Dax Shepard) decide to take this trip up river.

If it all went smoothly there'd be no call for Zany Antics ™, so it's not too much of a shock when their camp is attacked by a bear who wrecks their stuff and carries off Dan, somehow mistaking him for a bearcub. They lose their map, then get lost, go over wild rapids and a waterfall (<sarcasm>didn't see that one coming</sarcasm>), incinerate two gun-toting hillbillies' dope plantation (okay, actually didn't see that one coming) and spend the rest of the film trying to get home as well as stay alive.

They run across friendly faces in the form of superfluous T&A hippy freaks Flower (Rachel Blanchard) and Butterfly (Christina Moore), and more usefully an impressively bebearded Burt Reynolds as Del Knox, a shack dwellin' mountain man and old partner of the guy who's treasure they're hunting. In terms of supporting characters it's the aforementioned pot farmers and their assault rifles that steal the show and the best lines in the form of Dennis (Abraham Benrubi) and the excellent Elwood (Ethan Suplee, winner of the prestigious theOneliner 2004 Twattie for 'Fattest Goth in a motion picture'). They display just enough quirks and deviations from their redneck genotype to provide some of the funnier throwaway lines in the movie.

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Sadly the actual stars of the piece don't fare so well, scripted with far too many throwbacks to eighties pop culture references and some truly sappy sentimentality towards the close of play. Green in particular is wasted, mostly whining his way through a badly underwritten part. His fear of, well, near enough everything up to and including cling film deserves far more explanation that is given, or preferably shouldn't be there at all. The relatively unknown Dax Shepard impresses in places, his compulsive lying and sharp delivery creating something a little more memorable than his co-stars can match. Lillard just seems happy that he's not in a Scooby Doo film. Understandable really. That aside he fills his 'everyman' role as competently as the scattergun script allows.

The script is by far and away the weak point in a movie that otherwise doesn't do too many things wrong. Looks quite pretty, acting's decent, effective use of licensed music, returns library books before their due date, helps little old ladies cross the road, that kind of thing. It just can't decide what it wants to be, an admittedly unsubtle character comedy, an action adventure or a lame teen American Pie alike gross-out comedy (see the movies comedic nadir, dropping bags of bowel-logs onto their pursuers which certainly ain't funny but gives critics a useful base from which to dismiss the film).

As such, the film is pulled all over the place and never reaches funny in any direction. It has enough in the way of mildly amusing antics to ensure that it's not boring, which is about the worst sin a movie can commit. It doesn't sink to the same eye-gougingly awful levels of, say, What A Girl Wants, Sweet Home Alabama or American Pie: The Wedding but it's not the kind of movie you'd want to write home about, or indeed write a review about.

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Rather like this review, it's an uninspired outing. It has a faint familiarity about it that niggles away at you, but it's not going to be too upsetting an experience. We can only hope that after a run of uninspiring roles lately Seth Green gets an opportunity to do something decent soon, and it might be worth keeping an eye on Dax Shepard (apparently a semi-regular on MTV's Punkd, but I've no way of knowing if he's any good on that at the moment). Matthew Lillard? Well, he surely suffered enough already, as have we, so no more Scoobys please. Zoinks.

Without A Paddle isn't spectacular but it trundles along amiably enough, and would typically get itself a comparatively generous mark compared to the pasting it's taking from other corners. That said, it falls foul of our zero tolerance for utterly uninspired Matrix parodies an astonishing five years after the fact. My initial thought to dock it four stars seems a little harsh in the cold light of day, so let's drop it down one snowflake instead. Read my lips, no more Matrix parodies. That is all. Thank you for your time.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.

Steven Brill
Cast list:
Antony Starr (Billy Newwood)
Dax Shepard (Tom Marshall)
Matthew Lillard (Jerry Conlaine)
Seth Green (Dan Mott)
Ethan Suplee (Elwood)
Abraham Benrubi (Dennis)
Rachel Blanchard (Flower)
Christina Moore (Butterfly)
Burt Reynolds (Del Knox)
Bart the Bear (Bear)