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Without a Paddle Review

By Shawn McKenzie 10/08/2004

Why this movie became moderately successful I still haven’t figured out.  When Without a Paddle was released in August, it became a modest sleeper hit, yet despite its success, I’m still searching for the answers as to why I didn’t like it.

 Tom Marshall (Matthew Price), Jerry Conlaine (Andrew Hampton), Dan Mott (Jarred Rumbold), and Billy Newwood (Carl Snell) have been lifelong friends since they were kids at 10 years old.  They remained friends, but all four of them went their separate ways.  Adult Dan (Seth Green) became a successful doctor who also suffers from different phobias and asthma attacks.  He tries to flirt with women, but he isn’t too successful at it.  Adult Jerry (Matthew Lillard) is an office worker who would rather be surfing and doing outdoorsy things.  His live-in girlfriend, Denise (Bonnie Somerville), would love it if he was a little more romantic and less forgetful (he forgot their anniversary.)  Adult Tom (Dax Shepard) is a player with no cares that sells Harleys…or so he says.  Adult Billy (Anthony Starr) grew up to be the adventurer, and always took the most chances.  Unfortunately, Billy Newwood died in an accident involving parasailing in Mexico, and the three remaining friends lament their wasted lives at Billy’s funeral.  After the funeral, they visit their old tree clubhouse where they find a bunch of stuff from their childhood, including an old Indiana Jones compass and a map that Billy had been drawing.  Apparently, Billy had been trying to find the money of a missing plane hijacker named D.B. Cooper, who jumped out of the plane and fell to his death somewhere in Oregon in 1971.  He jumped with $200,000, but only $4,800 has ever been found.  Billy’s theory was that he knew where he could find it, and the friends impulsively decide to look for it in the Oregon wilderness, since they had made a promise to Billy.  They arrive in town just before they’re hassled by Sheriff Hank Briggs (Ray Baker), the local law.  They then rent a canoe from the river guide (Gregory Norman Cruz) to go down the river, but things go completely wrong as they are faced with several elements.  First, a bear (Bart the Bear from Doctor Dolittle 2) chases them up a tree, and then they nearly survive a steep waterfall.  Finally, a couple of rednecks named Dennis (Abraham Benrubi) and Elwood (Ethan Suplee) stalks them for stumbling onto their pot farm, followed by their Rottweilers named Lynyrd and Skynyrd.  The only salvation the friends have is from a couple of hippie chicks living in a tree named Flower (Rachel Blanchard) and Butterfly (Christina Moore.)  They have dubbed the tree itself “Earth Child,” and they are both hot, despite an overabundance of leg hair.  They lose their only form of communication, but then they run into a crazy mountain man named Del Knox (Burt Reynolds) who tries to help them with their predicament.  Despite their problems, they eventually realize through this experience that life doesn’t have to be boring.

When I saw the screening, I was wondering where they were trying to head here.  Obviously, it was a comedy, but they almost tried to make it into a drama itself, which clashed with the over-the-top goofball moments.  Director Steven Brill has mostly been successful with comedies…namely Adam Sandler comedies (my friend Reggie McDaniel may argue that Sandler’s movie, Little Nicky, wouldn’t qualify as a “good comedy” though), but this one for me missed the mark.

First off, I didn’t think that the three leads had any chemistry together as a comedic trio.  Normally, I enjoy everything that Green does, but he was lame here.  Since I still haven’t seen either of the two Scooby-Doo movies, I have to rely on the memories of Lillard from the Scream movies, and he was just okay then (though he sucked here.)  The saving grace was Shepard, who became a breakout star during the first season of MTV’s “Punk’d,” the show that also spawned Ryan Pinkston from FOX’s “Quintuplets” and, of course, Ashton Kutcher.  He had probably the best lines in the movie, yet without the chemistry of his fellow cast members, he was left alone to fend for himself.  The only other major character is Reynolds, who is displayed prominently near the end, but I have practically given up on him since his Oscar-nominated turn in 1997’s Boogie Nights.

Someone is obviously enjoying Without a Paddle aside from me (it’s currently still in the Top 20 box office as of this writing), but I don’t know why.  Is it trying to be a drama with all of elements about feelings?  One of my favorite dramas of all time, 1986’s Stand by Me, managed to be heartfelt and funny at the same time, and they did a more effective job at it.  Maybe in time I will understand, but for now, I’m the one who is left without a paddle.

Ratings System:


Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

Wait until it comes out on video...

Wait until it plays on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc...

Demand your money back, even if you saw it for free!

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