In Without A Paddle, three childhood buddies lurching toward premature midlife crises learn the sort of meaningful life lessons which, in certain types of comedies, can only be absorbed through physical hardship, mortal peril, a symbolic quest, and the occasional encounter with a maternal bear. A half-hearted cocktail of nostalgia, male bonding, and poorly choreographed slapstick, the film brings Matthew Lillard, Seth Green, and Dax Shepard together at the funeral of an overachieving friend who, before his death, wanted to gather the old gang to search for the treasure of notorious outlaw D.B. Cooper. Eager to carry out their dead comrade's mission and avoid the responsibilities of adulthood, the pals head out into the treacherous wilderness, where they run afoul of gun-toting pot farmers and find temporary bliss with a pair of scantily clad female environmentalists.
Buddy comedies rely heavily on their leads' chemistry, and in this regard, Without A Paddle fails. It doesn't help that Lillard and Shepard have nearly identical frat-boy personas, or that the charming, quick-witted Green gets stuck with yet another dreary-fussbudget role that serves him about as well as a shapeless brown suit.
To help prop up Without A Paddle's weak gags and saccharine sentiment, the filmmakers feed ravenously from the nostalgia trough, desperately trotting out Gen-X signifiers like Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and Culture Club, then hoping against hope that viewers' affection for these touchstones will rub off on the film itself. Eventually, Burt Reynolds turns up as a grizzled, Jimmie Walker-loving, "Dyn-o-mite!"-spouting mountain man saddled with delivering the film's hackneyed moral, but his appearance proves unexpectedly poignant for reasons the filmmakers never intended. His faded star power and good-natured but embarrassing performance should warn his young co-stars where a career full of choices like Without A Paddle inevitably leads.