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WITHOUT A PADDLE

2004, dir. Steven Brill
95 min. Rated PG-13.
Starring: Dax Shepard, Matthew Lillard, Seth Green, Burt Reynolds.

Review by Justin Patterson

I've been really digging movies in the "really stupid but fun" category lately. Maybe it's the job pressure, or the ever-changing dynamics at home, but I need the occasional escape in which someone else looks like an idiot for a while. Thinking along those lines, I recently managed to watch Without A Paddle while on a flight. It was stupid. It was funny. On that particular trip, it's just what I needed.

Without A Paddle is the latest offering from director Steven Brill, the same man who brought us Mr. Deeds (ick) and Little Nicky (better). You may also remember him from his notable acting roles in the Mighty Ducks movies, Aspen Extreme or Joe Dirt. The writers, Fred Wolf and Harris Goldberg, are responsible for many of the recent films starring SNL alumni.

The film's premise is of the "We began a journey" variety, not the "A new person came to town" variety. It's a story about four childhood friends: Tom, Jerry, Dan and Billy. They do everything together. When they're grown (except for Seth Green, who is made to look ridiculously short next to Dax and Matthew), they find out that Billy has died in an auto accident. While revisiting the treehouse of their youth, they find the box in which they had all stored things and which was not to be opened until they had found the lost treasure of famed robber D.B. Cooper. Upon opening the box, they find that Billy had already opened it at some point in the recent past and left them a map to the treasure. The three remaining friends set off to honor their friend by finally locating the treasure and living the good life. Along the way, they encounter adversity, learn about themselves, redefine their friendships, cure cancer and come out better because of it.

As fish out of water stories go, this has it all over The Simple Life, Dickie Roberts or even Victor, Victoria. The three city boys - Lillard as the surfer dude, Shepard as a dropout from responsibility and Green as a phobia-plagued, asthmatic doctor - run into all kinds of crap that makes them look stupid and funny. There's the bear who "adopts" Seth Green and watches carefully as he's forced to eat the raw meat she brought him. There are the two pot growers that they stumble upon (including a somewhat thinner Ethan Suplee), burn down their entire field of weed and wonder why people are shooting at them. There is the predictable scene in which the intrepid woodsmen lose all control while sending a canoe over a waterfall. There's a wonderful little bit involving Burt Reynolds (channeling Ben Gunn) as the woodsy wild man who takes a little mercy on the young men. Perhaps the best of all is a scene that involves our heroes standing in the middle of nowhere in their underwear, getting rained on, having to curl up together for warmth while the soundtrack plays a most inappropriate tune.

*NOTES* The huddle breaks up as the young men are fantasizing about some women they had just met. I won't say why, exactly, but when told that they need to resume the huddle, Tom yells out, "Not until he puts Jabba back in his Hutt!"

Also, apparently Seth Green doesn't have to worry too much about being short. In this wet scene, Green magically winds up wearing a fanny pack across his front. As it turns out, the rain so soaked through his tighty whities (even when he was wearing two pair) that Big Al and the twins were clearly visible. Unsure of how to fix this problem, the filmmakers elected for the fanny pack. They hoped nobody would notice. It would appear that Ron Jeremy now has company in the little Jewish stud department.

When it comes to enjoying yourself at the expense of others, this film's right in there. There's a nice blend of verbal comedy, sight gags and genuine hilarity. There is some good action, all set in the wilds of New Zealand (curiosly devoid of Hobbits). There are some hot women in leg warmers. There are drugs. There's sex. There's even some 80s-era rock and roll.

It's not an intelligent film, and it won't win any awards (except maybe from MTV). It's just a fun movie that's fun when you have a few drinks in you. Surprisingly, Lillard isn't aiming for every cheap laugh that he can get. Green does a great job playing that kid we all knew growing up. It's campy enough to give a chuckle and a few belly laughs, but holds to the plot enough that it isn't mired in laughing at its' own jokes.

THE MORAL OF THE STORY: When being pursued by a bear, you don't have to be the fastest. You just have to be faster than the slowest.

Have some sambuca or tequila and enjoy it.

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