A cinephile since childhood, and probably a bit of film snob now, M. Enois is a student of literature, film, art, philosophy, cultural history, and the sciences. (Editor's Note: So we obviously had to torture him with his second review for High-Def Digest.) His other passion is spending time with his wife, thirteen-year old daughter and their seven-year old American Pit Bull Terrier, exploring nature trails and walks. He aims to one day travel the world and drive the country in a pimped out RV.
You've heard the saying, I'm sure, that art is a reflection - a mirror, a product, or whatever - of the culture in which it was created. Well, in watching 'Without a Paddle,' I can't help but wonder what future film and cultural historians will think of our present period when examining such triflingly expendable movies. Will they imagine that our young generation of the 21st century possessed an unjustified fear of the natural world, resulting from their obsession with iPods, YouTube, Facebook, sending tweets to their followers, and spending hours on internet forums? Or will they simply take this lowbrow comedy about wilderness treasure hunting exactly for what it is: a substandard parody of 'City Slickers' meets 'Deliverance' with a touch of 'The Goonies' for bad measure. With half-baked antics fermented straight out of a porta-potty, 'Without a Paddle' is aptly named and coasts on timid rapids - unfunny and without a life-preserver.
Following the funeral of a life-long friend, Dan (Seth Green), Tom (Dax Shepard), and Jerry (Matthew Lillard) reunite in their former treehouse, where they reminisce about their youth. There, they discover that their friend Billy had mapped out the possible location of a missing $200,000 fortune. The friends decide to fulfill a childhood promise by traveling to the Pacific Northwest and finding the lost loot. It isn't long, though, before their dream of one last adventure through the wilderness turns into the worst experience of their lives. In the curse of the movie, the group is approached by a bear with serious maternal issues, hunted down by a pair of pot-farming hillbillies (Ethan Suplee and Abraham Benrubi), accosted by a wild-eyed mountain man (Burt Reynolds), and comforted by two beautiful tree-huggers (Rachel Blanchard and Christina Moore).
'Without a Paddle' is the sort of comedy that banks more on its stars than it does on a competent script. One that should reasonably make use of the talents involved, but instead makes the cast work at creating a few pockets of amusement. While Seth Green does well as the germaphobic doctor, he spends more time being cowardly annoying than genuinely pathetic. Shepard and Lillard (two wisecracking actors I've enjoyed in the past) are wasted as they slink across the screen. They just seem bored! And like any ill-conceived plot with many holes, the two show little knowledge of nature, yet understand the bear's motherly needs instantly (almost as if they're reading from a script). Everything I need to know for surviving the wild, I learned from watching Animal Planet . . . in HD.
The rest of the cast is really no different. Burt Reynolds provides little interest, beyond the fact that his role is meant only as an indirect reference to 'Deliverance.' The hippie chicks do nothing more than make me realize that young men can have some bizarre Freudian fantasies involving hairy legs and thunderstorms.
Overall, the actors are working with weak material, but they do what they can with it. The narrative lacks a sense of fun and excitement, and feels rather episodic, bouncing from one pratfall to next. You can literally cut the movie into several different segments of 5-10 min. and still end up with the same results.
'Without a Paddle' is high on itself with all the slapstick buffoonery, and obviously proud of its perceived cleverness, that much is certain. Unfortunately, with jokes that seem to lack originality while simply jump from one to the next, we never really feel like we're a part of the fun. After so many 'American Pie' sequels, I suppose that over-the-top, gross-out gags have completely lost steam and raise more eyebrows than laughter. You know your movie is in trouble when it comes attached to five writers, three decently well-known actors, and still, the story resorts to brown bags of stinky bombs to induce laughter in the audience. Granted, I'll admit I couldn't contain the laughter when the guys form a threesome to R. Kelly's "Bump n' Grind" during a thunderstorm. But one silly, panicky moment of homoeroticism is not enough to save this trek from sinking to the depths.
You'll wince, you'll cringe, you may even chuckle here and there, but most of all, you'll cry for wasting your time on this lame ride.
Presented in its original aspect ratio, 'Without a Paddle' makes the transition to Blu-ray with some questionable results. Not an entirely bad presentation, this 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer (2.35:1) comes with a few things that simply don't translate well to high definition. The video starts off great, looking clean, vibrant and full of comedic life. But as the movie continues, it becomes apparent that the look and feel is likely the outcome of a post-processing effort to tidy up the picture, as there were a few times when dirt and specks suddenly appeared. Unfortunately, the effort also diminishes picture quality somewhat when overly done.Most immediate is a color palette that's richly, and sometimes excessively, saturated, with primaries in particular looking greatly amplified. While they don't necessarily bloom, they do remove sharp definition of certain objects, like in tree foliage. This also affects flesh tones, which appear natural one minute and pasty orange the next. Facial complexions lack textural detail - no doubt, thanks to some DNR application, as well. Contrast offers crisp whites and clear visibility of hills in the distance, but runs a bit hot at times. There were a few instances of posterization in the sky and edge ringing, but not sure if EE is the culprit or if its inherent to the photography. Black levels are surprisingly deep and resilient, with strong shadow delineation. However, this isn't always consistent, with some scenes appearing flat and poorly resolved. (Chapter 11, inside Del's cabin is a prime example.)
The image is generally appealing and well-defined, but it's not razor-sharp and certain aspects lack proper resolution. It would be easy to mistake the quality of the video as good, but it falls short upon closer inspection. Still, overall, fans should find little to complain about.
Things fare better on the audio side, if only slightly. The predominantly front-heavy Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is pleasant and entertaining enough, but there's nothing really impressive or standout. It simply is what it is and does fine at providing the movie with some much needed humor.
'Without a Paddle' enjoys a fairly wide soundstage, with some decent imaging that cleanly spreads across the front channels. There are a few moments of discrete effects used in the background, but they're few and far between. Considering this is a comedy surrounded by nature, it's surprising that rear activity isn't more consistent. Only a few instances of envelopment come by way of a rainstorm and action sequences involving bullets flying through the listening area. The musical score is allowed to lightly occupy the surround speakers, while the pop tunes are handled with a nice mid-range stereo presentation. Low-frequency effects lend some healthy depth to the music and add weight to each action scene. Vocals are also well-centered and balanced within the mix.
Paramount Home Entertainment provides 'Without a Paddle' with an average collection of bonus material that will entertain fans, but be easily dismissed by those with only a mild curiosity. The features are the same as those found on the 2005 DVD and mostly presented in standard definition.
True to the phrase from which the title is taken ("Up sh*t creek without a paddle"), 'Without a Paddle' is a mundane comedy with little to offer in terms of genuine laughter. While the cast does fine enough, the script and the movie struggle to stay afloat. Other than a problematic picture and an okay audio track, the Blu-ray offers a good presentation. It's at least an upgrade from its DVD counterpart, but carrying over the same bonus features. It's hard to recommend something like this when clearly there are much better comedies available. Skip it.
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