Without a Paddle: Nature’s Calling
Directed by Ellory Elkayem
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 90 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 29.98
Release Date: January 13, 2009
Review Date: January 5, 2009
Paramount joins the ranks of studios offering direct-to-DVD movie sequels with Without a Paddle: Nature’s Calling. Having not seen the original film in this series, I have no way of knowing how closely this new one follows the original (the actors are certainly different), but strictly on its own terms, Without a Paddle: Nature’s Calling is a feeble buddy comedy adventure. The leading characters are dunces, their travails in the woods routine and predictable, and the action couldn’t be less involving. Once love enters the picture, it’s pretty lame as well. Only some beautiful nature photography salvages a very forgettable movie outing.
Working as a nurse in a nursing home, Zach (Kristopher Turner) assures dying matriarch Mrs. Bessler (Ellen Albertini Dow) that he’ll locate her missing granddaughter Heather (Madison Riley) before Mrs. Bessler dies. He asks best friend Ben (Oliver James), now a busy junior lawyer, to help him on his quest, and Heather’s stepbrother Nigel (Rik Young) also volunteers to help scout for her. She was last seen in the wilds of Oregon, so off the three inexperienced woodsmen go to track down Heather even though they’ve been warned that no one actually has survived trekking through the parts of the Oregon wilds they’re about to tackle. What’s worse, an unknown person in the woods seems to be keeping a very close eye on the boys’ whereabouts as they stumble and bumble their way through the watery and woodsy terrain.
Stephen Mazur wrote what appears to be the final screenplay for the film, but apart from some rough-and-tumble rafting adventures, there is a singular lack of memorable incident in the movie. Of course, he’s saddled himself with two leading characters with a collective I.Q. lower than dandruff (how they got to be a nurse and a lawyer is anyone’s guess), and their fear over woodland noises, the slapstick pratfalls (you just know there are going to be hits-to-the-groin jokes, and Mazur doesn’t disappoint), and the goggle-eyed double takes at any scantily clad babes are as unfunny as they are desperate. The romance is really tepid, too, as both guys have eyes for Heather, but she only has eyes for one of them resulting in the usual bromance break-up. And for pure hopelessness, there are a couple of ineffective CGI sequences involving an army of attack squirrels and a combative hummingbird. Director Ellory Elkayem has at least filmed the rafting sequences with some attention to the dramatic, and those moments are clearly the highlights of the picture. Later action sequences with the film's rudimentary bad guys are staged poorly and are completely lacking in drama.
Rik Young’s Nigel alone among the leading players makes an indelible impression, irritating as his continual prattle sometimes is. The two couples (Kristopher Turner-Madison Riley and Oliver James-Amber McDonald) are forgettably bland. Ellen Albertini Dow’s cagey old Mrs. Bressler has a couple of fun moments, but the film reaches the absolute bottom of the barrel with Jerry Rice giving an abominable performance as Hal Gore, heretofore unknown brother of Al Gore, who’s jealous of his more famous sibling’s accomplishments and is eager to make his own name known throughout the world.
The film is framed at 1.78:1 and is presented with anamorphic enhancement. The image is usually very sharp and clear with only some long shots soft and a bit smeared. There’s some edge enhancement, too, but flesh tones are very true to life, and the greens of the forest often pop with surprising clarity and dimension. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix takes advantage of the ambient sounds and delivers a very spatially pleasing soundtrack. The surrounds are used for music and constant sounds of the forest, and the waterfalls give the LFE channel something to do besides waiting on a different disc to be inserted in the player.
“Up the Creek: The Making of Without a Paddle: Nature’s Calling” is a 10 ½-minute EPK featurette featuring the five youthful leading actors, the producer, director, and writer of the film all enthusiastically discussing their film’s production highs and lows. It’s presented in anamorphic widescreen.
“Furious Nuts” is a silly tongue-in-cheek featurette on how the film’s lively cadre of squirrels were cast for the film. This anamorphic featurette runs 7 minutes.
“Treehouse Tales” spends its 3 ¼ minutes with director Ellory Elkayem, production designer Mimi Gramatsky, and several of the actors raving over the treehouse set for the film, a treehouse actually represented by three different set-ups to emulate the location. It’s also in anamorphic widescreen.
There are four deleted scenes which may be viewed separately or in one 4 ½ minute chunk. They’re presented in nonanamorphic letterbox.
The gag reel for the film, showing in particular Jerry Rice’s painstaking attempts to get his one scene role on film, runs for 5 ½ minutes in nonanamorphic letterbox.
The package contains the code for downloading a digital copy of the film for Windows-based systems.
The disc offers previews of Van Wilder: Freshman Year, American Teen, Stoned Age. Kenny Vs. Spenny, and TV Funhouse. The trailer for this film was not present on the disc but can be found on many previous Paramount DVD releases for the last six months.
Not particularly funny or inventive, Without a Paddle: Nature’s Calling is not an auspicious debut for Paramount’s new made-for-video arm of the company. A few of the actors do worthwhile work, and undemanding audiences might opt for a rental.