Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sexual Material, Nudity, Language and Drug Use
Directed by: Jarrad Paul & Andrew Mogel
Written by: Jarrad Paul & Andrew Mogel
Starring: Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor, Kyle Bornheimer, Mike White & Henry Zebrowski
I had been hearing a bit of buzz coming out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival about a little comedy called THE D TRAIN. Jack Black has been picking interesting projects lately and the plot sounded like it could make for a potentially fun time. So even with the iffy marketing, I decided to venture into this dark comedy/dramedy. Color me simultaneously bored and confused. THE D TRAIN is far from a horrible film, but also miles away from a good (or even okay) one. Trying too many things at once and ultimately feeling aimless, THE D TRAIN is a bland mess (sort of like its main character).
Dan Landsman is a member of his high school alumni committee. In a desperate bid to seem cool and important, Dan has proclaimed himself as the “chairman” of the group (despite them all being on an equal level). When surfing across his TV one night, Dan comes across a Banana Boat commercial and recognizes a familiar face. The face belongs to Oliver Lawless, the most popular kid in his high school. In a last-ditch effort to pull of the best high school reunion ever, Dan decides to fly to Los Angeles on a faked business trip (unbeknownst to both his boss and his wife) to convince Oliver to come to the reunion. Something happens in L.A. that leaves Dan an emotional mess and his identity crisis only worsens when Oliver does show up for the reunion (bunking in Dan’s house, of all places).
It’s not quite clear what kind of movie THE D TRAIN is trying to be. Certain moments suggest that this is a natural and heartfelt journey of a troubled man looking for himself. Other scenes imply that this should be taken as a scathingly dark comedy. More troubling is that there isn’t enough of a story to support either of these things. The film plays off as more frustrating and upsetting than compelling. There are a couple of chuckle-worthy jokes that did garner a few laughs from myself (and the three other folks sitting in on the mostly deserted midnight showing). However, a lot of the film feels like it’s merely substituting uncomfortable situations and sheer awkwardness for laughs. Yes, both of those things can be funny in the right scenario, but D TRAIN lacks enough of a storyline or likable characters (more on that in a moment) to make that awkwardness worth sitting through or laughing at.
Jack Black plays the character of Dan with frightening conviction. He’s inhabiting the high school dork who painfully tries to be someone who he’s not. You either knew this person, still know this person or currently are this person. Though Black slips into Dan’s skin with impressive ease, the problems come with Dan being an annoying jerk. I know that D TRAIN attempts to aim for a journey of self-discovery overall, but it misses the mark with this man being thoroughly unlikable with his decisions and lies (that just keep piling on top of each other). Kathryn Hahn is alright as Dan’s wife, but really isn’t given a whole lot of development. The kicker is that they try to have these forced, would-be emotional moments in the latter half of the film that simply don’t work because I didn’t care about almost any of these characters. The best performance in the film comes from James Marsden as Lawless, who is the most fleshed-out guy in the entire film and seems (mostly) likable in comparison to everyone surrounding him.
THE D TRAIN gives Jack Black an opportunity to play against his usual character type, but Dan Landsman is such an unlikable protagonist that I couldn’t really care about what happened to him for a majority of the running time. James Marsden delivers the only great performance of the film. The script (much like its main character) struggles to find an identity. The problems mainly come in this movie being a mess genre-wise and not having enough of a sustainable enough plot to justify itself as a feature. THE D TRAIN is a bland flick with a couple of slightly noteworthy performances and a few mild laughs to be had, but that’s about all there is here.