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Without a Paddle

Since many on the Goliard staff call ourselves avid canoers even though we are instead currently suffering through the relentless desert heat towards the ass end of a sweltering summer and haven't launched a craft in months, we have been pining forlornly of late for our days in the Northwest. Up there, countless rivers wind through temperate misting evergreens and a cool plunge and paddle are always only minutes away. So when someone told us that a canoeing movie had come out where three goofballs set out paddling through backwoods Oregon in search of DB Cooper's treasure, we decided to check it out. We figured that just the chance to sit in a cool dark theatre and spend an hour or two soaking in some river scenery would help us feel better about life even if the plot was asinine, the acting abysmal, and the soundtrack a syrupy nostalgic joke. As often happens when one sets expectations that low, we were pleasantly surprised.

Now that isn't to say that Without a Paddle is a good film. It just wasn't as bad as it could have been even though the the plot is asinine for the most part and the acting, while perhaps not abysmal, is nothing to write home about either. The soundtrack is actually a pretty good collection of eighties stuff which mixes in well and makes the film easily as enjoyable as say, something like Anchorman which was packed with supposed stars and talent yet only had one scene when we found ourselves bursting out unexpectedly. (The scene where Jack Black makes a cameo as a biker and suddenly punts the Anchorman's little dog off the Coronado Bridge saying "See, that's how this is gonna go down."). By contrast, Without a Paddle has quite a few similar moments where you find yourself guffawing and spraying cola and then looking around to see if anyone else is laughing with you (in the theater of nabobs where we saw the film everyone was howling uproariously from start to finish but these Limbaugh lovers are hardly a cross section of representative filmgoers so you can never tell). Speaking of Limbaugh, it will come as no surprise that scatology abounds in the movie with excrement flying and homophobia and underwear scenes mixed in but most of the funny moments in our opinion are the result of the dialog and antics of Tom played by Dax Shepard (above). Newcomer Shepard is an Owen Wilson like character who plays the childhood buddy who went down the gambling, drinking path (and we didn't just like him for his embodiment of these fine goliardly qualities). There were four best friends you see, who made a blood pact in a childhood fort about someday going to find D.B. Cooper's treasure. When one of them dies, the other three pull a Big Chill sort of thing and end up leaving the funeral and taking a canoe trip into the Oregon woods. Matthew Lillard and  Seth Green are the other two buddies and not all that memorable in any way but Shepard is funny as hell. And not because of all the Deliverance situations they get into which are basically ridiculous and watching Green, who is supposed to be a doctor, suck on his asthma inhaler and pussyfoot around gets old fast, but Shepard's running dialog with himself and off the cuff remarks provide some classic moments.

As far as the scenery went it was pretty awesome what with the impossibly blue waters and all which made us immediately suspicious, especially when none of the panoramic views looked at all familiar, that it may not have really been shot in Oregon at all. Sure enough, filmed in New Zealand, (we found out later) because of the tax breaks (although the trained bear also had to be flown in from Utah and apparently was somewhat cranky about it which added a few extra takes and hours spent by the actors out in the woods in their underpants). Another unreal thing about the film, and these are things we can vouch for first hand, is that three guys and all the gear and beer they had with them would have swamped the canoe before they got ten feet from shore. Not to mention that some of the river feats that they pull half-wittedly would have been impossible for even the most highly skilled oarsmen. Such is the nature of this type of film however and if you get caught up thinking things like "gosh dangit a bear would never act like that" or "seems to me that standing on top of a capsized canoe while running a rapid would be impossible" then chances are you just won't be able to enjoy the experience of watching this, or for that matter, most other movies these days. On the other hand, if you just let Without a Paddle flow over you, like a lazy mountain stream, and don't take things too seriously, you'll find yourself mildly amused and leaving the theater in a better mood than you entered it. And as the dog days of an Arizona summer wind down, that's about all a poor sweaty goliard can ask for. 

And seriously, listen to that Tom guy's lines closely. Even when he's in the background sort of muttering to himself. We're telling you the guy is funny.

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