When I first heard that Paramount was releasing the direct-to-video sequel 'Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling,' all I could think was, "Uh, really?" Then I looked up the original, theatrical 'Without a Paddle' and was shocked to discover that it actually grossed nearly $60 million domestically back in 2004. (Uh, really?) So, considering that lesser-grossers have received direct-to-video sequels over the years, and some have generated big business at video store shelves (such as the 'Bring It On' flicks) I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that Paramount would attempt to cash in on the market with it's own piece of dreck. Which is exactly what 'Nature's Calling' is -- a piece of cinematic driftwood.
The original 'Without a Paddle' starred Seth Green, Dax Shepard, and Matthew Lilliard, but 'Nature's Calling' has no such star power. Instead, we get a group of admittedly good-looking (and occasionally likable) up-and-comers in a plot that doesn't really have much to do with the first film. Kristopher Turner stars as Zach, and Oliver James as Ben, two best buds since high school, who set out to win the affections of Heather (Madison Riley). Seems it's love at first sight for shy lawyer Ben, but he's so repressed it's up to the more adventurous and irresponsible Zach (who idles his days away working at a nursing home) to hatch a plan. Since Heather is a diehard environmentalist, they'll chase her, along with the help of Heather's cousin, Nigel (Rik Young) into the wild. What ensues is an ever-increasing series of crazy stunts and madcap comedy.
I found 'Nature's Calling' quite bizarre. Perhaps the concept had some potential for laughs, but it's just so full of left-field touches and unbelievable situations that I just never understood what its makers were going for. Stephen Mazur ('Heartbreakers') wrote the screenplay, and I have to wonder why he decided to turn Heather into such a one-dimensional caricature. Suddenly, once in the wilderness she renames herself "Earthchild," and shacks up with fellow tree-hugger "Thunderstorm" (Amber McDonald). They even live in a big treehouse-like cabin that's straight out of an episode of "Land of the Lost" or something. Such eco-trendy gags aren't satiric, just stupid -- what exactly is the film parodying here? None of this helps to endear us to Ben's plight, because we can't help but wonder why he's so interested in such an unappealing, poorly-written character.
The rest of 'Nature's Calling' is equally unimpressive. The physical comedy and action-y laughs feel cheap (the film's low budget is pretty obvious), and Ellory Elkayem's direction (he previously helmed 'Eight Legged Freaks') doesn't add much flair to the table. Turner and James are fairly likable as two utterly stock comedy characters (really, would these guys even be friends in real life?) but there's only so much they can do with such poor material. Add in a superfluous cameo by NFL legend Jerry Rice (yes, that Jerry Rice) as -- I kid you not -- Al Gore's long-lost brother (who, we are to believe, really invented the Internet and romanced Tipper before ol' Al took all the glory), and you have one seriously weird direct-to-video sequel.
Paramount presents 'Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling' in 2.35:1 widescreen and 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. This is one of the weakest new releases I've seen in a long while on Blu-ray.
Granted, 'Without a Paddle' is a direct-to-video production, but I still expect better than what looks like a 480 standard-def blow-up. Blacks are okay, but contrast runs flat giving the image next to no depth. The source is in good shape, save for the near-constant grain. Colors underwhelm, with little sparkle and generally weak fleshtones. And forget about fine detail -- I rarely thought I was watching high-def at all. At least there are no major compression artifacts, but that's faint praise indeed.
'Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling' gets an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track, and it's the best aspect of this Blu-ray.
Surround use is surprisingly solid. There are frequent discrete effects and some nice natural ambiance. Dialogue feels well balanced, even if the production has a cheap feel with obvious canned ADR. Dynamic range is fairly hefty considering the material, and low bass more than adequate. The comedic nature of 'Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling' does not lend itself to a truly gangbusters soundtrack, but this TrueHD track certainly sounds way better than it had to.
This is no grand special edition, but Paramount has at least provided a few (forgettable) extras for 'Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling.' Most of the video materials are presented in 1080, and with the same subtitle options as the main feature.
Is it redundant to say that 'Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling' is itself redundant? Here's a direct-to-video sequel that I find it hard to believe anyone wanted to see, and it's just not particularly memorable or funny. This Blu-ray is ho-hum as well, with poor video and supplements. At least the audio isn't bad, but really, that's hardly a selling point. 'Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling' is entirely skippable.