Without a Paddle (United States, 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Want to know why Paramount Pictures is struggling? Watch Without a Paddle and you'll gain some insight. At least the film understands what it is, as is indicated by the steaming pile of excrement that appears 2/3 of the way through the proceedings. By then, we don't really need the clue, but it's appreciated. About the only way to make things worse would have been to add Tom Green to the cast.

The pedigree of Without a Paddle isn't promising. The director is Steven Brill, whose previous two outings were the Adam Sandler disappointments Little Nicky and Mr. Deeds. Two of the writers who developed the story, Fred Wolf and Harris Goldberg, list among their combined credits Dicky Roberts, Joe Dirt, Master of Disguise, and Deuce Bigalow. Matthew Lillard is probably best known as Shaggy from the awful Scooby Doo live-action movies. Seth Green will never shake the image of Dr. Evil's son. (At least Dax Shepard, the third lead, is a relative unknown.) With all of that talent, how could anything possibly go right? A miracle was needed, and God turned a blind eye.

The only thing more ineffective than the desperately unfunny stabs at comedy are the lame "serious" scenes. For some inexplicable reason, director Brill decided that instead of making this a balls-to-the-walls, complete gross-out comedy, he was going to make Without a Paddle a message movie. The message is supposed to be something about living life to the fullest. But really it's about avoiding spending hard-earned money on this turkey. There's a line about how it's possible to re-earn lost money, but lost time is irrecoverable. Anyone considering seeing Without a Paddle should remember that.

There's not much of a plot - the story is just an excuse to get three clueless city guys out in the wilderness and have them chased by a bear, a mountain man (Burt Reynolds), and a couple of refugees from Deliverance (played by Ethan Suplee and Abraham Benruibi). But, for completeness' sake, I'll provide a synopsis of sorts. Following the death of a friend, childhood buddies Jerry (Lillard), Dan (Seth Green), and Tom (Dax Shepard) embark upon a treasure hunt in the Oregon woods to mark their late pal's passing. They quickly get lost and wreck their canoe, and that's when the unsavory humans and the bear make their appearances.

I thought it was going to be tough figuring out which of the performers does the least cringe-inducing work, until I considered the acting of veteran thespian Bart the Bear. Bart, who is Hollywood's go-to guy when a bear is needed, does a more credible job than any of his human co-stars, which is a damning indictment, to say the least. As for Burt Reynolds' small role - the fact that the one-time A-List celebrity has stooped to appearing in Without a Paddle shows how far his star has fallen.

Without a Paddle is so bad that it will annoy and/or bore those who have minimal standards and a high tolerance for sewage. This is such an affront to good cinematic taste that those involved should find themselves unable to work in Hollywood for a long time. And the best thing for the potential consumer to do is to avoid it during its hopefully brief theatrical run and when it makes its appearance on video store shelves. Let the flies buzz around it instead.

Without a Paddle (United States, 2004)

Director: Steven Brill
Cast: Matthew Lillard, Seth Green, Dax Shepard, Ethan Suplee, Abraham Benrubi, Burt Reynolds, Bart the Bear
Screenplay: Jay Leggett & Mitch Rouse
Cinematography: Jonathan Brown
Music: Christophe Beck
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2004-08-20
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations, Profanity, Violence, Drugs)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1