I was so prepared for this movie to be awful that I made Ken Hanke come with me as revenge for sticking me with so many turkeys this year. As fate would have it, the rat got a reprieve, because — astonishing both of us — Without a Paddle was also pretty funny (albeit sophomoric, stupid and silly). In fact, it was the funniest movie so far in this lackluster summer season.
The premise is no big quake on the originality scale — it’s a goofball’s update of Deliverance, going so far as to have Burt Reynolds show up in a hilarious parody of himself. Shot in New Zealand (which stands in for Washington state), Paddle‘s wild nature shots alone are worth a portion of the admission price.
The plot centers around four childhood friends taking a blood oath to find the treasure of D.B. Cooper — the guy who parachuted out of a plane with a suitcase full of cash and was never heard from again. Three of the four meet up again as grownups (?) at the funeral of their most adventurous member, Billy.
Dr. Dan Mott (Seth Green, The Italian Job) is a short hypochondriac nerd who can’t get even his nurse to give him a second glance. Jerry (Matthew Lillard, Scooby-Do) has a girlfriend, but he’s too lame to commit. Tom (Dax Shepard, in his first movie speaking part) is a bum who’d rather tell lies about how successful he is than get off the couch and actually do something.
Back in their old boyhood tree house, the pals discover a map Billy made, indicating that he figured out the location of the treasure. Jerry convinces the others that they should find the treasure in Billy’s memory, pointing out that they’re soon going to be old enough (at 30) to think about being adults. “This is the last chance we have,” he says, “to do something incredibly stupid.” Oh boy.
They enter the woods without a clue how to survive there. Soon their canoe has not only run rapids that they didn’t see on the map, but crashed to pieces on the rocks below a waterfall.
Downright hysterical was the scene in which a mama bear (played by gender-clueless Bart the Bear) carries Dr. Dan to her den and forces him to eat the dead animals s/he thoughtfully brings to fatten him up for their hibernation together. Escaping from the bear, the guys find themselves at the pot plantation of Elwood (Ethan Suplee, The Butterfly Effect) and Dennis (Abraham Benrubi, Open Range) — two really big, really ugly, really nasty dudes who are just aching to kill some city slickers.
Escaping from the behemoths, the trio discovers two ditzy eco-warriors camped out in a huge tree. Flower (Rachel Blanchard, TV’sSeventh Heaven) and Butterfly (Christina Moore, Mad TV) are enthusiastically appealing, despite hirsute legs and a disconcerting ability to use their feet like hands.
Escaping again from the behemoths, but dressed only in their shorts, the guys spend the night huddled together in a cave (cause for much eeeyew!-guys-touching-guys hysterics). Next enters an old geezer (Burt Reynolds) who’s been in the forest for 30 years, waiting for his pal D.B. Cooper to show up.
In the end each man realizes that “the greatest treasure is being alive!” (Aaaaaw!) Dumb and derivative, Paddle made the audience laugh (that’s worth three rating stars alone). And since there were no anti-female jokes, I bestowed another whole star to honor that amazing accomplishment.
– reviewed by Marci Miller