Originally created 08/20/04

At the Movies: 'Without a Paddle'



Considering its source - the filmmaker behind the atrocious Adam Sandler flicks "Little Nicky" and "Mr. Deeds" - the backcountry comedy "Without a Paddle" is comparatively tolerable.

Though short on laughs, the movie is an amiable, inoffensive piffle that benefits from the warmly moronic camaraderie of stars Seth Green, Matthew Lillard and Dax Shepard.

Still, the movie is so insubstantial, it's more a time-killer than a piece of entertainment, and it's a bit dumbfounding that the slender tale required two screenwriters and three others credited with dreaming up the story.

Directed by Steven Brill, "Without a Paddle" follows three lifelong pals who return home to Oregon for the funeral of Billy, the adventurous fourth-musketeer buddy of their youth.

Dan (Green) is now a doctor with a healthy practice, but he continues to pile on the phobias he's collected since boyhood. Jerry (Lillard), a successful but bored business executive, has a terrific girlfriend who's fed up at his inability to commit. Tom (Shepard) is the black sheep, a grown-up adolescent whose only prospect is his next state-sponsored vacation in the pen.

After the burial, they discover that Billy had meticulously plotted out their childhood fantasy of hunting for the loot stolen by legendary skyjacker D.B. Cooper, who disappeared after parachuting from a plane in 1971.

With Billy's maps and calculations, Jerry and Tom jump at the chance of following the trail. Timid Dan takes some convincing.

"This might be the last chance we've got to do something incredibly stupid together," Jerry tells him.

Of course, Dan reluctantly agrees, becoming the wet blanket on the trio's pratfall-riddled canoe trip to find Cooper's stash.

They stumble onto two backwoods marijuana farmers (Abraham Benrubi and Ethan Suplee) who aim to silence the three tenderfoots with a whole lot of bullets. A bear mistakes Dan for its cub and tries to fatten him up for the winter hibernation. They take shelter with a couple of tree-hugging environmentalist babes (Rachel Blanchard and Christina Moore).

And they finally fall in with a grizzled mountain hermit played by Burt Reynolds, who manages to muster more of a comic twinkle in his eye than the weak screenplay by Jay Leggett and Mitch Rouse merits.

"Without a Paddle" predictably tests the bonds of our heroes' friendship and prompts them to re-evaluate the direction their lives are taking. Near the end, the movie develops an acute case of the warm-and-fuzzies (director Brill, after all, got his start writing "The Mighty Ducks").

A bit more laughter would have helped wash down the sentiment. None of the jokes and gags are terribly amusing, leaving the movie adrift much of the time, steering solely by the cheery fraternity of its three stars.

"Without a Paddle," a Paramount release, is rated PG-13 for drug content, sexual material, language, crude humor and some violence. Running time: 99 minutes. Two stars out of four.