Director Steven Brill's often bizarre (and yes, occasionally a bit funny) take on "Deliverance" was not met with good reviews, but audiences came anyway, turning the little movie into a nearly $60m sleeper hit. The film focuses on Dan (Seth Green), Jerry (Matthew Lillard) and Tom (Dax Shepard), three childhood friends who have gone in very separate directions after graduation. When another one of their friends passes away, the three hit the road and wind up back together in Oregon. After recalling some old stories, the three decide that they need an adventure of their own, and find that their friend had already started looking for possible lost treasure.
So, off they go, riding down the rapids with plenty of booze and prepared for camping and fun. Of course, it's the fish-out-of-water situation, as the three run across bears, hillbilly pot farmers (Abraham Benrubi and Ethan Suplee), waterfalls, hippie tree-living girls (Rachel Blanchard and Christina Moore) and bad weather. The picture even attempts to throw in the usual elements of one-dimensional character development - Tom is a gambler who needs to collect himself before getting on with his life, Dan is a dorky doctor who can't get anything from the ladies and Jerry - surprise, surprise - can't commit to his girlfriend.
The picture goes from one oddball episode to another, seeming almost entirely made-up as the production went along. Occasionally, it's pretty funny, but the second half starts to become weaker as the picture turns into a long chase sequence, with a mountain man (Burt Reynolds, no less) helping the three. That's about the long and short of the plot. Making matters worse is the ending, where the film comes to a complete stop in order to highlight what seems like at least 10 different "life lessons" the three have learned along the way.
The cast isn't terrible, and the three lead actors give it a good try - Shepard was one of the reasons why "Punk'd" can never hope to be as good as its first season, Green is often amusing and Lillard can be funny when he doesn't overdo it. The film's visually solid, as well - great locations and fairly nice cinematography can be found here. "Without a Paddle" is a decent time-waster (a "Star Wars" reference is funny), but the idea could have lead to something more amusing had this gone through some script refinement and maybe decided what it wanted to be - a comedy, an adventure or something in-between.
VIDEO: "Without a Paddle" is presented by Paramount in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) and while not reference quality, I was very pleasantly surprised by how terrific this transfer looked - the bright, outdoor scenes in the woods look absolutely gorgeous on this presentation. Although some of the dark scenes and a few interior scenes look a tad softer, the outdoor scenes during the day look quite impressive, with a great "three-dimensional" feel and a smooth, clean appearance.
While a few minor specks and marks were seen on the print used, the picture otherwise remained pristine. No edge enhancement, noise or other concerns were spotted. While sharpness and detail on this Blu-Ray presentation were improved over the DVD, colors also looked considerably better, showing quite a bit more "pop". Black level remained solid, while flesh tones were spot-on.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The film's soundtrack is mostly a "comedy" mix, but the surrounds do kick in on occasion to deliver some sound effects, such as gunfire. Audio quality was fine, with a crisp, clear score, natural-sounding dialogue and a bit of bass on occasion.
EXTRAS: "Without a Paddle" gets no less than two audio commentaries - one from director Steven Brill and the other from director Steven Brill and the cast. The commentary with Brill and the cast is amusing, as the actors provide some very funny stories from the set, and provide some very funny goofs on the final scenes. The director/cast commentary is a video commentary (small box appears in the corner with footage of the cast and crew chatting), but the video clips don't come up too often.
Aside from the two commentaries, we get MTV's "Making the Movie", which is an 18-minute promotional piece that takes a look at the making of the film. 13 deleted scenes (a bunch of them extensions of scenes) are also included, with optional director's commentary. Finally, we get the film's trailer, MTV promos and previews for other Paramount titles.
Final Thoughts: "Without a Paddle" is occasionally amusing, but the idea and cast could have combined for something much more clever. Paramount's Blu-Ray provides first-rate video quality, fine audio quality and the extras from the DVD. Recommended for fans.
The Film C+