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.
- Paramount Pictures
- 98 min
- Steven Brill
- Jay Leggett, Mitch Rouse
- Seth Green, Matthew Lillard, Dax Shepard, Ethan Suplee, Abraham Benrubi, Rachel Blanchard, Bonnie Somerville, Nadine Bernecker, Danielle Cormack, David Stott, Christina Moore, Burt Reynolds
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