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Without a Paddle (2004)

Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/12/2009

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/7/2009

This is going to sound very hypocritical, but I'm ready to give up on mainstream film critics...at least when it comes to comedies. It seems that about 75% of the time, when a comedy has been savaged by critics, I find it entertaining. This goes beyond the assumption that these critics only like "highbrow" films. I often have to wonder if they have any sense of humor whatsoever. A case in point is the film Without A Paddle. To be fair, this movie isn't the end all-be all, but it made me laugh. And isn't that the important thing?

Without A Paddle focuses on four childhood friends, Dan (Seth Green), Jerry (Matthew Lillard), Tom (Dax Shepard), and Billy (Antony Starr). This quartet was inseparable as children, but they have drifted apart as they've entered adulthood. Dan is now a doctor and quite neurotic. Jerry has a corporate job and a girlfriend, but he may lose both due to the fact that he'd rather be surfing. Tom is a slacker who drifts in and out of trouble. And Billy has become an adventurer. Dan, Jerry, and Tom are brought together again when they learn that Billy has died. After the funeral, the trio begin to reminisce and, after rummaging through their old clubhouse, remember that they'd once planned to look for the lost treasure of infamous 70's hijacker D.B. Cooper. As a tribute to Billy, they decide to take a trip into the wilds of Oregon to look for the treasure. Once they enter the wilderness, Dan, Jerry, and Tom find nothing but trouble, as they must battle a raging river, and many other dangers, both natural and human.

Without A Paddle brings a little more to the table than the average comedy. The movie does a surprisingly good job of mixing sophomoric humor with a more serious side, as the characters deal with the death of their friend and consider their childhood memories. Director Steven Brill has worked with Adam Sandler in the past (he directed Mr. Deeds and Little Nicky), so he's been around someone who has shown an ability to mix crazy humor and heart. But, let's not over-state the seriousness of this film, as it's not Stand by Me or The Big Chill. The vibe in Without A Paddle is closer to that of
Old School, as it examines the way that males attempt to re-claim their childhoods by doing very silly things.

And it's those silly things which dominate Without A Paddle. The "journey down the river" plot is merely an excuse for the trio to run into a series of threats. The movie exists for the simple reason for the guys to become involved in crazy situations which become odder and odder as the movie progresses. The movie is somewhat predictable and even at 98 minutes, some of the gags run a bit long. However, the movie is funny -- but probably not for the reasons that many would expect. The broad, physical jokes (many of which appeared in the trailer) are somewhat humorous, but there are many great lines in the film which deliver the true laughs. The dependable Seth Green provides many good moments, but it's Dax Shepard (who was unknown to me before seeing Without A Paddle) steals the show and has at least two of the best lines in the film. Once again, I'm not sure what critics were looking for. Without A Paddle isn't a classic, but it has some truly funny moments. This is the kind of simple, silly comedy that I love...and maybe I'm alone in that.

Without A Paddle rows onto
Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, as it shows no notable grain and no defects from the source material. The picture shows a very nice amount of depth -- in the forest scenes, the characters in the foreground are nicely separated from the trees in the background. The level of detail is good as well. The colors are realistic, but the image is slightly dark, even in the sunny exterior scenes. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are fine, as they are nicely detailed and pick out some minute sounds in the forest scenes. But for a movie where there's a boat going down a roaring river, the surround and subwoofer effects are very disappointing. We don't get many effects from the river and the only definite surround effects come from gunshots. The effects are there, but they have no presence.

The Without A Paddle Disc has a nice selection of extra features. Director Seven Brill provides an OK audio commentary. He speaks at length about the film's production and provides some insight into his working relationship with the actors. But, he also rambles at times and spends a lot of time talking about the things that he doesn't know or the things that he's never done. I'm sure that when he heard the commentary for the first time, he wondered why he admitted those things. There is an additional commentary which features Brill, Seth Green, Matthew Lillard, and Dax Shepard. This is a "Video Commentary", which means that every few minutes a small picture-in-picture box appears in the top right corner of the screen which lets us see the group recording the tracks. 32 minutes into the track, Brill leaves and actors Ethan Suplee and Abraham Benrubi joins the group. This is a very fun commentary track, as the group reminisces about their times in New Zealand and constantly make fun of one another.

"MTV's Making the Movie: Without A Paddle" (18 minutes) is, of course, very slickly produced and contains many clips. It also has many comments from the cast & crew and some behind-the-scenes footage. The segment examines the cast and characters, as well as the stuntwork on the river. The Disc contains 13 ADDITIONAL SCENES, which total some 24 minutes. There is a PLAY ALL option, and the scenes can be viewed with commentary from Brill. There is some funny stuff here, but it's clear why most were cut. Also funny are the "MTV Interstitials", which are six very brief segments which contain footage not seen in the film. The extras are rounded out by the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long