Without a Paddle
directed by Steven Brill
(Paramount, 2004)

Without a Paddle really doesn't do much to distinguish itself from other films of its kind -- wherein the main characters take off on a comically hairy adventure in order to recapture their youth and end up figuring out the kind of adults they want to be in the process -- but it does play out pretty well. There are laughs to be had throughout the film, the underlying story holds together satisfactorily, the lush wilderness setting makes for a vivid backdrop and I felt pretty entertained by the time all was said and done.

On the negative side, the film does rely on a number of hackneyed storylines, such as the ubiquitous ignorant locals who chase the main characters all over the woods, and the big life-changing realizations of each character ring a little hollow in the end.

Some people say the film should appeal mainly to teenagers, but I'm not so sure of that. Those of us who came of age in the 1980s love every chance we get to reminisce about our good old days, and this movie takes us back to those days of Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, '80s music, etc. Without a Paddle also doesn't descend to the level of crudity that today's teens may have come to expect from their comedies. Sure, the movie takes the low road every once and again, but it soon works its way back to middle ground -- there's basically no nudity, relatively little cursing and even the human waste product shtick (seemingly required by law in everything coming out of Hollywood these days) is somewhat sanitized here.

I liked the setup of the story, with its link to the mystery of D.B. Cooper. I know I was fascinated as a kid by the Cooper story, but I doubt that many young people today have ever heard of the guy. For the record, Cooper stole a bunch of money, made his escape by parachuting out of a plane and proceeded to vanish into thin air; no one knows what happened to him or to the stolen money. This is exactly the kind of treasure hunt I dreamed of as a kid, so it makes perfect sense to me that this group of 30-year-old friends would set out in search of Cooper. They make the trip in honor of the fourth member of their childhood foursome, after bidding him farewell at a pretty disrespectful funeral. It's certainly the adventure of a lifetime, complete with a whitewater washout, a very close encounter with a bear, a meeting with two modern-day flower children living high up in a tree, the aforementioned hostile locals and a very grizzly Burt Reynolds.

You might expect Seth Green to stand out from his fellow actors, but it is really Dax Shepard who supplies most of the comic energy of the film. Without a Paddle isn't really a cinematic trip you want to take twice, but it does make for a pretty entertaining 90-minute diversion from real life.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 14 May 2005

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