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Without a Paddle

Apparently there's something about turning 30 that makes men go a little funny in the head. With youth a receding memory and middle-age no longer on the distant horizon, more than a few overgrown boys find themselves suddenly as restless as toddlers on a sugar high. For Billy Newwood (Antony Starr), adulthood never presented much of a problem — not only did he bed a series of beautiful women, he also climbed Mount Everest and ran with the bulls in Pamplona. But after dying in a parasailing accident in his home state of Oregon, Billy's three boyhood friends return home as well to say goodbye. Dan Mott (Seth Green) has done well for himself after leaving medical school by establishing his own practice, while Jerry Conlaine (Matthew Lillard) finds himself lost in the nine-to-five world of corporate America. Tom Marshall (Dax Shepard) is equally lost, although it's hard to know if he minds. In fact, nobody can be sure exactly what it is he does for a living besides drink beer and ride big Harleys. But one night after the funeral the three old friends return to their childhood treehouse, where they uncover a map Billy created purportedly leading to the treasure of infamous hijacker D.B. Cooper. With Tom and Jerry giving the perpetually nervous Dan some encouragement, the trio agrees to canoe down one of Oregon's hazardous whitewater rivers in search of the loot — and a new perspective on their own lives as well. It's not hard to go in to Without a Paddle (2004) with low expectations, and in fact it's not a bad idea either. Arriving with little fanfare in theaters, it featured two supporting players in lead roles, one total unknown, and an untested director in Steven Brill (who helmed two Adam Sandler films before this one). However, thanks to its cast, occasional wit, and frequent silliness, Paddle tripled its $19 million budget in domestic release. The always-likable Seth Green serves as the trio's anchor, and as usual he prefers to lose himself in a character, this time as the risk-averse, hyper-clean Dr. Mott who finds himself normally at odds with his reckless colleagues and often the butt of their jokes. Veteran Matthew Lillard is likewise entertaining and well used as the slightly daft Jerry. But the film's secret weapon turns out to be newcomer Dax Shepard as Tom, in his first starring role. Even if Shepard's verbal wit can be attributed as much to the script as himself, there's no denying the hilarity of his sharp delivery and quick ripostes (Sheriff: "Are you all Boy Scouts?" Tom: "No, but I once ate a Brownie.") The film moves from one backwoods encounter to the next (a bear attack, hillbilly pot farmers, hippie tree-sitters) until a heavily bearded Burt Reynolds shows up as a mysterious mountain man who's been holding on to a long-forgotten secret. The scenery is remarkable as well — albeit with New Zealand doubling for the Pacific Northwest's massive rainforests. Paramount's DVD release of Without a Paddle features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include a commentary with director Steven Brill, a second commentary with Brill and cast members, an MTV "making-of" featurette (18 min.), 13 deleted scenes with director's commentary, MTV interstitials, and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.

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