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Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling - comedy DVD review
Rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America curledupdvd.com rating: 2 stars
Actors: Oliver James, Kristopher Turner, Rik Young, Ellen Albertini Dow, Madison Riley
Directors: Ellory Elkayem   Studio: Paramount
DVD release: 13 January 2009   Runtime: 96 minutes
(1 disc)
Format: Closed-captioned, Color, Widescreen, NTSC
DVD features: Audio (Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround - English), Subtitles (English, French, Spanish), Up the Creek: The Making of Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling, Furious Nuts, Treehouse Tales, Deleted scenes, Gag reel

I have to admit that I have not seen 2004's Without a Paddle, so maybe I'm not the best choice to review its direct-to-video sequel. However, from what I have read, I didn't need to.

Unlike most sequels, where familiar characters are plunged into a new story, Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling does it in reverse: it uses the same plot as the first one (three disparate cityfolk get lost in the deep woods) but uses three entirely new characters not seen in the first one. Apparently, the paper thin tie-in is the treehouse-dwelling nature girls, who were minor characters in the first version. That should be enough of a red flag: anyone renting a sequel that is not only direct to video but is based around minor characters from the moderately successful first film should not be expecting The Godfather Part II.

The story: Two male BFFs since high school have been following different career paths and are growing apart. Ben (Oliver James), the Nerd, has a job in a law office he hates (he wears a Bluetooth a lot to let us know he is "white collar" all the way). Zach (Kristopher Turner), the Fun Guy, is a nurse in a convalescent home. An elderly patient of Zach's wants him to do one last favor for her: find her long-lost granddaughter, Heather, who disappeared into the Oregon woods. Zach convinces Ben to go along, partly for male bonding, partly because Ben has been in love with Heather since high school. The trio is complete with the arrival of the old lady's grandson, Nigel (Rik Young), the British Stereotype. The three heroes head off into the woods in hopes that nuttiness will ensue.

Part of me feels bad about being critical of a harmless little film like this, but I have to be honest. It is one bad, worn out cliché after another:
  1. suspicious locals who warn the trio not to go into "dem 'dere woods";
  2. Ben's fight with a rabid squirrel;
  3. the heroes getting captured by Heather (who apparently has lived in the woods for years, yet wears makeup and is dressed like she's on her way to a sorority luau mixer);
  4. Heather's hidden tree house with surprisingly modern trappings (ala Gilligan's Island); and
  5. two shady cons following the trio for some suspicious reason (and who are somehow able to keep up even though they are on foot, while the heroes are in a raft on a rapidly moving river).
However, for those who endure the film long enough, the "highlight" of the film has to be the special guest appearance of Jerry Rice (yes, the retired football player) as an environmentalist named "Hal" Gore (heh, heh, get it?). In a scene that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, nor really has anything to do with the plot, "Hal" tries to convince a captive that global warming is caused by squirrel farts. The scene would be horrible enough, yet a curious thing happens: Rice's total inability to act (he delivers his lines like he learned them about five seconds before the shot started) pushes the scene so far over the top that it gave me a morbid fascination, like seeing a grisly car crash that you can't help but stare at.

Not all of the film is bad. For one, the Oregon scenery is quite pretty. And again, it is pretty harmless. It's a light PG-13 comedy (Zach's favorite swear phrase is "Holy Shitake!" for instance), with some very tame sexual innuendo and the requisite pooh jokes. I can see a room of 11 and 12-year-olds finding the film pretty funny (though none of them would have any idea who in the hell Jerry Rice is).

In short, it's not the worst movie I have ever seen, but it is the movie equivalent of eating a whole bag of circus peanuts - maybe fun for a bit, but devoid of value and you'll forget about it a few seconds later (well, except for the Jerry Rice train wreck). It might work to occupy your kids' time if you're on a long road trip or having a slumber party, but don't expect them to remember anything about it.

Actually, I enjoyed the extras on this DVD.

Along with the usual "making of" feature, deleted scenes and pretty funny gag reel, there is a mockumentary called "Furious Nuts" that discusses the "squirrel" actors who appeared in one scene (sadly, this feature is funnier than the movie), as well as "Treehouse Tales," which shows the two treehouses used in the film.

There is no commentary track, maybe because there was nothing really to talk about.
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reviewed by Trent Daniel
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