You remember the 2004 Paramount movie "Without a Paddle," where three townsfolk headed into the deep woods for a zany adventure. You don't? Well, it did well enough at the box office that the powers that be at Paramount are giving us another installment. Three townsfolk head into the deep woods. Again. Only this time it's three entirely different folks, and the movie comes to us directly to DVD and Blu-ray video. Why video? Did the studio figure audiences were probably not going to buy into the same plot line a second time? Did they figure audiences would find the new movie so remarkably dull they'd want the price of their ticket back? In any case, it looks as though the studio accounting staff were hedging their bets on this one. As well they should have.
The new movie, "Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling," is not really a sequel; the filmmakers based it on the previous film, but it has no one in it from the earlier cast. Instead, Oliver James, Kristopher Turner, and Rik Young star. Yeah, I know, not exactly household names, their having done mostly supporting roles on TV. Ellory Elkayem directed it. Still not registering, huh? Elkayem was the fellow who directed "Eight Legged Freaks," the tongue-in-cheek monster-movie parody. Ah, now a flicker of name recognition, eh? A very little flicker? OK, here's a name you will know: Jerry Rice. Yes, that Jerry Rice, the National Football League's all-time leading receiver and the well-known man-about-television in shows like "Dancing with the Stars" and "Entertainment Tonight." However, if Rice's performance in the present film is any indication, current and future Oscar contenders need not fret about competition.
Here's the setup: Two friends in their mid twenties have been buddies for life but now find themselves growing apart. Ben (Oliver James) is still the nerd he always was, now a work-obsessed lawyer who hates his job. Zach (Kristopher Turner) is still the partying free spirit he always was, now a nurse in a convalescent home. One of Zach's patients, Mrs. Bessler (Ellen Albertini Dow), is dying and wants Zach to do her a favor before she goes: find her long-lost granddaughter, Heather (Madison Riley), who went into the Oregon woods seven years before and disappeared.
Now, here's the thing: Heather just happens to be the girl that Ben had an enormous crush on in high school and the girl he's been pining for ever since. So Zach tells Ben about the situation and persuades him to head to Oregon with him and look for the girl. He figures at the very least it may help their friendship. Along for the trip goes the old lady's grandson, Nigel (Rik Young), just recently arrived from London and sporting one of the most annoyingly stereotyped British accents imaginable.
The movie is one giant cliché, the beginning playing like an after-school special, the rest of it resembling a poorly made-for-television production. Ben is supposedly the brains of the crew, but it never occurs to him to ask why nobody is bringing any food into the middle of a forest. Instead, he brings nothing, Zach brings two kegs of beer, and Nigel brings a steamer trunk full of clothing. Then, when they chance upon Heather, they find her living with another beautiful young woman (Amber McDonald) in a tree house in the woods, both women dressed as though for a Hawaiian luau.
Clearly, the words "frivolous" and "scatterbrained" are in play here. The movie makes no pretense of rationality, and when Jerry Rice makes his appearance as Hal Gore, it confirms our worst fears. The movie is not funny, it's not dramatic, it's not exciting, it's not romantic, and it's not interesting. If the measure of a film is how often you look at the clock while you're sitting through it, "Nature's Calling" is a zero.
As I was watching it, I couldn't help thinking how much it reminded me of typical old television comedy shows. Specifically, "Gilligan's Island" came to mind, except that no one in the cast of the new movie is nearly as appealing as any of the people Gilligan hung out with. It's not that "Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling" is entirely stupid or insulting; it's not another "Dude, Where's My Car?" or "Freddy Got Fingered." It's just remarkably empty, silly, and pointless, and oh so very boring.
For this Blu-ray disc Paramount engineers use an MPEG-4/AVC codec and a single-layer BD25 to accommodate the short, ninety-one-minute film. It's probably all that's necessary in displaying the 1.85:1 ratio movie as well as one might expect. The film's colors show up very brightly, very vividly, maybe brighter and more vivid than real life, yet acceptable for a farcical comedy. Facial tones are reasonably natural, grain is minimal, and there are no obvious signs of edge enhancement or other artifacts. The picture is a bit soft on detail, though, and the overall look of the screen is somewhat glossy and glassy. Nevertheless, when it's good, as it is in the Oregon forest locations, it looks quite impressive.
The lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio seems like overkill in this instance since it has very little to reproduce beyond a plain-Jane musical soundtrack and some midrange dialogue. Nevertheless, in comparison to the SD disc's regular Dolby Digital, the TrueHD comes off very slightly clearer and smoother. Still, it sounds limited in its frequency range and dynamic impact, and the surround activity is practically nonexistent. Therefore, the TrueHD does exactly what it's called upon to do, even if that's not saying much.
The disc includes three featurettes, which the keep case announces are in high definition. That may be true, but the MPEG-2 processing doesn't look like high def so much as it looks like upscaled standard-def. Be that as it may, the featurettes are hardly anything to get too excited about. The first is a ten-minute making-of affair called "Up The Creek: The Making of Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling," that lasts a little over ten minutes and provides nothing more than any other making-of featurette gives us. The second item is "Furious Nuts," about seven minutes with the CGI squirrels; and the third item is "Treehouse Tales," about three minutes on the tree house sets. Things wind down with a five-minute gag reel and four deleted scenes, the latter totaling just over one minute.
Finally, the disc contains sixteen scene selections, with bookmarks; English as the only available spoken language; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; English captions for the hearing impaired; and access to a digital copy download for Windows (not compatible with iPod, iPhone, Apple TV, Sony PSP, or Microsoft Zune).
"Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling" looks like a movie produced for thirteen-year-olds. Needless to say, I mean no disrespect to thirteen-year-olds; all of us were or will be thirteen. It's just that the studio marketing department appear to be aiming their film toward people quite a lot older than thirteen, people in their twenties and above, perhaps, and I should think that by that age they would be more discriminating and demand more from their movies than pretty high-def images. This one doesn't provide anything more than a person could find almost any day of the week on the Disney Channel.