Are straight men really that afraid of homosexual rape? This is the questionable mantra that runs through (and is answered over and over again) Steven Brill’s Without a Paddle—a buddy comedy that purports the theory that entire generations of men were traumatized by John Boorman’s Deliverance.
Proving that 30 is the new 20 (and 40 is the new 30) three 30-year-old city boys go on a nature adventure after their good friend dies. Honoring deceased friend’s childhood dream of finding missing fortune (left by D.B. Cooper) in the wilderness of Oregon, the city weenies embark on a journey that will (insert banjo music here) expose them to their most primal fears. Bears, hot hippie tree huggers, hillbillies, Burt Reynolds and, oh yes, man on man action (though we never see any). Welcome to Oregon folks!
Seth Green plays Dan, the phobic doctor who loves Star Wars and sings Culture Club’s “Do You Want to Hurt Me” when frightened (oh—gay!). Matthew Lillard is Jerry, a stressed out business executive who can’t commit to his girlfriend. And Tom (Dax Shepard from MTV’s Punk’d) is a gambler and pathological liar. See, they all have issues, little holes in their lives that’ll be filled by the end of this wacky misadventure of a canoe ride. Must we mention the canoe ride doesn’t go as planned? Or did you think the title was symbolic for the boys losing something else important to them?
Encountering inbred pot farming brothers with a militia style arsenal (or, like enough weapons to supply Cuba), a couple of comely, unshaven tree sitting hippie chicks who use their excrement as weapons, a computer generated grizzly, man hugs for warmth with the dreaded fear of accidental erection and (insert Banjo music here) Burt Reynolds as a mountain man, the guy’s are taxed in all sorts of gross out and fantastically stupid scenarios. Really, the movie is just the boys running through the woods with the specter of rape hovering in the air like some ‘70s exploitation flick, only dumber and much more boring. All of the actors, particularly Green and Shepard (who can be hilarious), are up to a challenge, even playing some of their stupid moments with subtly (they seem smarter than the material), but sadly cannot break free of this gassed-out running-gag of a movie. They are toying with the homo-notions in a clever way, but the script does not allow them to go any further. It's not offensive, it's just tiresome.
Even worse, the film expects us to gain a lesson from their experience. See, that’s what Deliverance really was about—men coming in touch with their primal nature and truly being frightened beyond squealing like a pig—but Without a Paddle slaps on some personal growth crud that feels misplaced after all the homo/poo-poo jokes. Maybe if the characters all got raped by Burt Reynolds in some horrifying/morbidly humorous American Me moment, the outcome would be interesting. Or to keep it sweeter, if the characters had all stepped out of the closet to embrace that raging queer lurking beneath the homo-panic subtext (well, it's not really subtext but...) and had furious gay sex. Can you imagine if a movie like this pulled that on its jock audience? What? They really ARE a bunch of fags? Falling along the lines of the TRUE meaning of the term, the audience would have been honestly--Punk’d.