If you’ve read what “Without a Paddle” is about, you already know enough: The question is not whether this movie is bad, but how bad it is. The film is clearly inspired by the great thriller “Deliverance” from 1967, but any comparison of “Paddle” with this film tends to be sacrilege. Even a (guest) appearance by Burt Reynolds, one of the protagonists of “Deliverance”, cannot provide a nice extra dimension in the last act of the film. When we finally see him appear, in the guise of a bearded hermit, a slight shiver passes through the viewer. Finally there is the man from the movie who is being perfumed here. We expect (and are ready for) a fun role, with funny references to his old character or film. But apart from one amusing comment, his contribution to the film is also a disappointment. Obviously, nothing or no one can save this movie.
Of course it starts with the nonsensical plot. After the death of a childhood friend, the three main characters find out that he had the plan to search for a lost treasure, and so they decide, in the name of their friend, to undertake the journey themselves. “The Goonies” (1985) or an episode of the Ducktales is even more complex and less artificial than this. The trio finds the treasure map in the tree house where they always came as children. In this cabin we find all obvious attributes from the eighties, desperately trying to create a bit of nostalgia. A poster of B.A., a C3PO action figure (from “Star Wars” (1977), for the laity): the tone is quickly set. The problem is that these are completely uninteresting characters who do not or hardly manage to arouse our sympathy. Once we get to the river town, of course we get the obligatory “hillbilly” jokes and just like in “Deliverance” everyone tells them that the river is dangerous. There is no constructive tension as in the classic thriller, because of the threatening atmosphere hammering into it. And it is certainly not funny at all.
From the moment they sit on the river there is no longer a story. Of course they take the wrong route and go overboard, being chased by a bear (a great acting Bart the Bear) and then the rest of the movie by a bunch of hillbilly morons (which in movies like this one is pleonasm). Now even a movie with such a design could be entertaining if the actors put on hilarious performances, the action is thrilling, or some nice storylines were added. How does this movie fare in these categories? Failed, failed, and… failed. The characters and the way they are portrayed are boring at best and annoying at worst, the jokes are about 95% dead with a good number that is just cringe-worthy. How about a pelt with bags of feces, or a group moment where the three have to lie against each other in the rain to keep each other warm, accompanied by R. Kelly’s “Bump ‘n’ Grind”? Hilarious.
Apart from a shot or two on the river and a moment among the treetops towards the end of the film, the action is anything but thrilling. The biggest irritation points, however, are the dramatic scenes, in which the characters are “developed”, and the vomit-producing message that was forced to stop in the film. The characters, it turns out, all have unique, earth-shaking problems, all of which will of course happen to them at the end of the movie. Because, of course, in the end it is not a quest for the treasure, but a quest for yourself. Matthew Lillards Jerry has a beautiful girlfriend, a successful job, but turns out to have fear of commitment. We feel sorry for you boy. Seth Green’s Dr. Dan Mott has so many phobias and sometimes behaves so hyper and exaggerated that his deviations are just an irritating caricature. Moreover, his capacity as a doctor is completely implausible. Then there is the character Tom Marshall, played by Dax Shepard. This figure has a blunt, no-nonsense attitude from the start, which makes his character the only one amusing. But instead of this character remaining rock solid, he too must have personal problems (compulsive lying and gambling addiction). In addition, Dax Shepard is so dull in his acting and has such a dull intonation (like a sort of second-rate Owen Wilson), that the bit of flair or “attitude” that could have been in the film is negated.
The twofold message where you like a wet towel in the last ten minutes of the movie After all, “The real treasure is (enjoying) life”, and “Carry your friends with you wherever you go”. May I have a bowl …