John Boorman may be the worst thing to happen to hillbillies and banjo music, but if Without a Paddle is any indication, the effects Deliverance has had on popular culture has been equally damning. From Day of the Woman to Wrong Turn, hip cinephilles know that filmmakers have been referencing Boorman’s classic for 30 years now, but director Steven Brill’s feature length spoof of the film isn’t exactly aimed at discriminating viewers, let alone anyone whose attention span goes back further than, say, Brill’s Little Nicky. The story of three idiots who go searching for some random dead guy’s buried treasure in the wilds of Oregon after one of their childhood buddies dies, Without a Paddle panders to the average filmgoer’s most juvenile hang-ups and has the audacity to end on a dishonest, ridiculously sentimental note that celebrates life but punishes marijuana. From Coal Miner’s Daughter to Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me,” Dax Shepard of Punk’d fame ushers much of the film’s gay pop culture parade, except no one in the film’s target audience is likely to spot the references. No matter, because even if you don’t know who won an Oscar for her performance in Coal Miner’s Daughter or who manned Culture Club, the condescending references are sissy enough on the surface to illicit giggles regardless of their historical pretext. Deliverance was scary not so much because audiences had never seen anything like it on the screen before its 1972 premiere, but because straight men didn’t want to think about getting fucked in the ass. There’s no anal rape in Without a Paddle, but the promise and threat of gay sex informs just about every gag in the film, from an adulterous Shepard being caught in bed by a woman’s lesbian lover (good) to Seth Green, Matthew Lillard, and Shepard spooning each other in the woods in order to keep warm (bad). Guys haven’t changed much since the ‘70s, but where Boorman’s film challenges a group of men’s misguided notions of privilege by conflating sex and class, Brill merely contends himself by pressing the straight male’s gay panic button over and over and over again. Rather than challenge sexual hang-ups and hypocrisies, an anti-enlightenment Hollywood exploits fear for money. In this case, that fear is man-on-man sex, and shrewd Hollywood execs believe that the demographic that dreads it is the same one that responds to the sight of stoned animals and bags of flying shit. Save for an extended sequence that pits a pint-sized Green against a grisly bear and an almost sublime use of R. Kelly’s “Bump n’ Grind” on the film’s soundtrack, add Without a Paddle to that id-grinding pig-pile that includes Sorority Boys and the American Pie films.
You know how it is: It should be a crime for films this bad to look this good on DVD when small studios that release great films can't afford to do their films justice. Oh well. Video on this Without a Paddle DVD is occasionally muggy, but otherwise quality is clean throughout, and though the audio strains for atmosphere (sometimes the actors don't sound as if they're actually outdoors), dialogue is at least clear and surrounds are healthy and active.
Two commentary tracks, one by Steven Brill that isn't necessary to listen to unless you're a moron and a second video commentary with Brill and the cast that's irritating by and large but frequently full of surprises. (I can't tell, though, why it's a "video" commentary since equipping the feature doesn't bring image of the foursome up on the screen at any point during the course of the film.) Rounding things off is MTV's "Making the Movie" episode devoted to the film, six interstitials, 13 deleted/alternate scenes, a theatrical trailer, and countless other trailers for other Paramount films and DVDs.
"Outrageous and zany," says Jeffrey Lyons. Words to die by.