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'Paddle': No Deliverance From Cheesiness

By Sara Gebhardt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 20, 2004; Page WE41

There's apparently not enough room in the deep woods for both crazy antics and epiphanies. "Without a Paddle" tries very hard to be a sincere, pseudo coming-of-age story about 30-year-old men finally discovering who they are and what they want out of life. But because of over-the-top plot elements, mediocre acting and lack of chemistry between the three main actors, it fails in the attempt. Where it succeeds, however, is in outrageously stupid, silly and sometimes crude moments that color the narrative about three childhood friends lost in the Oregon woods.

Luckily, good chemistry is not needed to pull off scenes in which a bear mistakes the runt of the trio, Dan (Seth Green), for a bear cub and refuses to leave until he gnaws on a furry animal carcass she brought him. Nor is strong acting really necessary when the three men, stripped to their underwear and rain-soaked, decide they should spoon for warmth. It's not the conflicted macho-man routine that makes this scenario surprisingly funny and inoffensive, but rather the fact that R. Kelly's "Bump n' Grind" plays in the background, with lyrics "My mind's telling me no, but my body's telling me yes."

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And that is how much of the movie goes. Your mind tells you not to find an iota of amusement in the extremely inane skits, but some other part of you tells you to keep watching. As Dan, Tom (Dax Shepard) and Jerry (Matthew Lillard) adventure through the woods on a treasure hunt they spent much of their youth planning with a friend who has just died, they run into the inevitable problems of city kids lost in fictitious woods: the requisite gun-toting, backwoods hillbillies, a corrupt sheriff, dangerous river rapids, an eccentric mountain man played by Burt Reynolds and hot, tree-hugging, au naturel hippie girls. Given this setting, the cheesy, unconvincing moments centered on the characters' serious discussions of life and friendship really seem unnatural and ruin the flow of the physical comedy.

WITHOUT A PADDLE (PG-13, 99 minutes) --Contains sexual material, some profanity, some violence, crude humor and drug references. Area theaters.


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