“Without a Paddle: Nature’s Calling” is yet another direct-to-DVD film that tries to ride the shirttails of an already mediocre film. Written by Steven Mazur (“Heartbreakers”, “Liar, Liar”) and directed by Ellory Elkayem (the reasonably funny "Eight Legged Freaks"), the film doesn't go beyond expectations, offering standard lowbrow gags on a direct-to-video budget.
Two longtime friends, Ben (Oliver James, “What a Girl Wants”, “Raise Your Voice”) and Zack (Kristopher Turner, “Instant Star”) made it through high school as best friends, but years later they’ve seemed to have moved in different directions. Ben - the more reserved one - is now a lawyer and slacker Zack now works at a nursing home where he has fun chatting with the elderly and hitting on female nurses. Ben and Zack are your typical movie duo, but that’s about as far as their characters really develop.
Zack and Ben can’t seem to keep in touch, despite Zack’s efforts to spend more time with Ben whose constantly occupied by work. Instead, Zack hangs out at the nursing home where he befriends Mrs. Bessler (Ellen Albertini Dow) who doesn’t have much time left to live. Mrs. Bessler asks Zack to do her a big favor by finding her granddaughter, Heather (Madison Riley) who went missing years ago.
Of course, Heather isn’t just Mrs. Bessler’s missing granddaughter, she’s also Ben’s crush from high school, the very girl he’s been pining over for years. When Zack sees that it’s Heather, he insists Ben come along on his quest to find the free-spirited, animal-loving Heather who went missing in the woods. Keeping with the “Without a Paddle” theme, Ben, Zack and Mrs. Bessler’s step-grandson Nigel (Rik Young) set out along the river to find Heather, along the way encountering all kinds of trouble: dangerous waterfalls, warnings of certain death, sinking rafts, suspicious men on their trail, and of course - angry squirrels. What would a film like this be without snarling, fist bumping, face attacking, angry CGI squirrels?
The film heads in predictable directions and the dialogue is just as cliche as the ending. The performances from James and Turner are decent enough and the two seem to enjoy working with each other, but they don’t have the same comedic timing as the original “Without a Paddle” trio (Seth Green, Dax Shepard, and Matthew Lillard).
As for the supporting efforts, Riley offers a sweet performance as Heather, who goes by Earthchild in the woods, but it’s Amber McDonald (who looks a little like Ashley Judd) as her friend Thunderstorm who - despite having few scenes - offers the most endearing performance. While the movie's certainly no classic (and it's questionable whether it should have even been made - were there really that many people demanding a sequel to the original?) - the movie does occasionally connect for a lowbrow chuckle.
VIDEO: "Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling" is presented by Paramount in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is a little above-average, as while the picture appeared crisp and clean (for the most part - a few scenes looked mildly softer than the rest), there were a few concerns that were spotted, such as a few minor instances of edge enhancement and a couple of traces of pixelation. Colors looked vibrant throughout the show, appearing warm and well-saturated, with no smearing. Additionally, black level remained solid, while flesh tones appeared spot-on. Overall, this was a fine transfer, but didn't really "wow" in any way.
SOUND: "Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The wilderness sequences have some ambience in the surrounds, but otherwise this is a front-heavy "comedy" mix. Audio quality was fine, with clear dialogue and crisp score.
“UP THE CREEK: The Making Of Without A Paddle: Nature’s Calling” This feature addresses how this film relates to the original, finding the right director, filming locations, as well as the casts experience working together. There’s some footage of the cast learning how to raft that is interesting to watch. With lots of cast interviews and some behind-the-scenes footage, this 10 minute making-of feature will be fun for fans.
A look at the crazed Squirrels in the film, this humorous feature begins with line producer George Engel and Studio Exec. Reginald R. Reynolds, as well as cast and crew, talking about originally getting a method actor to be the squirrel in a squirrel costume. Turns out he was difficult to work with, smelly, and only spoke Squirrel. Then, of course, the idea of working with wild squirrels came to mind. This goes on like this for awhile with footage and pictures. This is actually far more humorous than the film and worth a look.
A look at the creation of Heather/Earthchild and Thunderstorm’s tree house.
There are 4 deleted scenes that were better left on the cutting room floor. They are mainly just small additions to scenes already in the film.
Nearly 6 minutes of outtakes of cast members flubbing lines and missing marks.
“Van Wilder: Freshman Year”
“Kenny vs. Spenny”
“Comedy Central’s TV Funhouse”
Final Thoughts: A mostly bland sequel to the lowbrow original, "Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling" offers some decent performances, but the jokes are uneven and the story's predictable. The DVD offers fine audio/video quality, as well as a few minor extras. Fans of the original should try a rental first.
The Film C