Led by a trio of dumb, dumber and dumbest, "Without a Paddle" is a testosterone comedy that might just as well be titled "Without a Brain Cell."
It is also a probably futile effort to further escort teen heartthrob Seth Green from his juvenile mode ("Austin Powers") into adult stardom. Alas, that has an unintentionally comic side: the diminutive Green is much shorter in height than co-stars Matthew Lillard and Dax Shepard. He still comes off as a tinymite, would-be adult, even while playing a 30-year-old yuppie doctor.
To its credit, the movie's premise involves a sometimes amusing homage/parody of "Deliverance," complete with Burt Reynolds in a cameo role. Green, Lillard and Shepard, meanwhile, are boyhood chums who reunite after the death of another childhood pal and revive their pre-pubescent dream to solve a crime mystery and find missing stolen money.
They go on a hunt throughout the remote woods of Oregon in the hopes of discovering ransom money last known to be in the hands of a criminal who disappeared. Instead, they battle foes likely (bears) and highly unlikely (Hell's Angels-lish marijuana growers). In a rite-of-passage riff on their own bonding as kids in a treehouse, they also stumble onto a coven of hippie-like female tree-huggers, living in a remote treehouse to protest deforestation and apparently waiting only for tumescent young men to find and deflower them.
There are homophobic jokes (things get too cozy in one scene where the boys huddle together for warmth). And there's even one scatological bit, in which our heroes dump chamber-pot excrement from the treehouse on their pursuers. Har-de-har. The "Deliverance" echoes are clever but too few, and Reynolds is ultimately disappointing, leaving you wondering where all that "Boogie Nights" potential went. The denouement is as hopelessly predictable as the whole set-up is preposterous.
Green is a pleasant enough comic hero, though he seems more like a frat boy than a young physician. Director Steven Brill also provides lush shots of deeply green woodlands and meandering mountain rivers. Then again, it's always a bad sign when the best thing about a movie is the scenery.
"Without a Paddle"
Directed by Steven Brill; screenplay by Jay Leggett and Mitch Rouse; photographed by Jonathan Brown; edited by Debra Neil-Fisher; music by Christophe Beck; production design by Perry Andelin Blake; produced by Donald De Line. A Paramount Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:35. MPAA rating: PG-13 (drug content, sexual material, language, crude humor and some violence).
Dan Mott - Seth Green
Tom Marshall - Dax Shepard
Jerry Conlaine - Matthew Lillard
Flower - Rachel Blanchard