Male bonding deep in the heart of the Oregon wilderness is the order of the day in Without a Paddle: Nature’s Calling, a direct-to-video sequel to the Seth Green-Dax Shepard-Matthew Lillard comedy of 2004. Unfortunately, it’s more of a training ground for actors and crew than an actual film. Before I move in to the heart of this catastrophe, I should first forbid myself from attacking the practice of dressing up a cheap, low-budget remake and calling it a sequel. It’s too easy of a criticism, so nothing will be said of it, except to point out the fact that’s exactly what this is.
A flawed movie from the opening frame, WAP: NC has the production qualities of a bad Nickelodeon TV show with acting and script to match. It borrows heavily from the first film with two young friends growing up and growing apart, only to rejuvenate their friendship with a wild outdoor adventure that is partly gross, partly outlandish, and 100 percent ridiculous. What separates the two is the original had three solid performers and a talented supporting cast to convince viewers it was a better film than it actually was. Its “sequel” has none of this, and thus, fails miserably.
In high school, Ben was hopelessly in love with the cute, spunky Heather, an animal rights nut from a very young age. Just when he builds the nerve to make his move, she’s expelled from school for freeing the lab rats and moved far away from him. Ben and best friend Zach grow up – Ben becomes a lawyer, Zach a nurse – and a completely contrived plot device sends them to Oregon in search of Mrs. Bessler’s (one of Zach’s dying patients) granddaughter. Guess who she happens to be.
Colors are solid, contrast is fine, but even though it’s presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the picture has an annoying cheapness to it that makes it seem like an amateur production. Director Ellory Elkayem insists on using some of the worst CGI special effects I’ve ever seen, just for a few laughs, but the eyesore created by them detracts from the purpose. CGI squirrels and hummingbirds – they’re unnecessary, and assist the film in completely missing its mark.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is adequate with strong dialog levels, somewhat subdued ambient sounds, and a quaint musical score. What I did like about this area of the disc was the terrific soundtrack that surprised me with several classic hits from my old college days. Del Amitri, Gin Blossoms, Spin Doctors – I was shocked to find them here, and to discover the production budget could actually afford licensing.
The disc has special features!? Who could possibly care? If you do, here they are:
Up the Creek: The Making of Without a Paddle: Nature’s Calling – Mercifully only 10 minutes long, this feature showcases interviews with the writer, producer, director, and cast, as they attempt to explain their abortion.
Furious Nuts – At 7 minutes, this feature is a little easier to handle as cast and crew play up the squirrel effects with tongue tucked firmly in cheek – easier than a serious look at why they didn’t turn out better.
Treehouse Tales – Ah, just 3 minutes! This feature takes a look at the treehouse set, which looks suspiciously like Ewok Village.
Deleted Scenes – Four to be exact! While they still have the timecode on them, quality is on par with the main feature. (By the way, there is nothing here the film couldn’t live without; then again, it couldn’t have been much worse including them.)
Gag Reel – Running briefly over five minutes, this is pretty much just the actors forgetting their lines and laughing about it. I’m sure it was fun at the time, but after 500,000 films have done the same thing? Pass…
Here we have proof positive that Hollywood doesn’t do what it does for the art. It’s a money-grubbing machine that will not think twice about making a bad film on purpose and slapping a (somewhat) familiar name on it in the hope said film will register with enough simpletons to earn its money back and perhaps a profit. That’s exactly what you’ll see in Without a Paddle: Nature’s Calling… that is, if you’ve got the nerve to watch it. But people, believe me when I say that that’s what critics are for – to watch the crap so you don’t have to. Heed my warning, and don’t suffer the same fate.