Whenever there's a straight-to-video sequel on the horizon, all of my orifices tighten just a little bit. The main question that is, of course, "why?" So let me try to take a crack at it. The first Without a Paddle film did have Seth Green, which is good. But it also had Matthew Lillard and Dax Sheppard, which is bad. And despite the bad outweighing the good, it still turned in almost $60 million domestically, which, if you're a modestly budgeted film set on a raft, isn't be too shabby (it made more in the U.S. than the first Saw film by comparison). So why not do a video sequel? Well, because it's stupid, that's why.
The second Without a Paddle film adds the subtitle "Nature's Calling," and doesn't appear to be answering any lingering questions left by the first film. Stephen Mazur (Heartbreakers) wrote the script that Ellory Elkayem (Eight Legged Freaks) directs. Zach (Kristopher Turner) and Ben (Oliver James, What a Girl Wants) have been best friends since their junior high days. Ben is the uptight one, and Zach is the carefree, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants one. On his first day at school, Ben sees Heather (Madison Riley, Bratz) and falls for her. She's driven by environmental causes like forest preservation, and that's what causes her and Ben to part, of sorts, and as the years grow, Ben decides to try and find her. As a lawyer, this is slightly tough for Ben to do, but Zach, who works in a nursing home, is all for the quest, particularly after he finds out that Heather is the granddaughter of one of his patients. Zach tells Ben, so the two, along with Nigel (Rik Young, Beowulf), Heather's cousin, go try to find the environmentally conscious Heather. And the result is 90 minutes of comedy.
At least that's what they claim. In fact, this is far from comedy. I'm more curious as to what inspired someone to write a film that appears to have no real original thought to it. As far as Zach and Ben go, Turner and James play them as best as they can, but there's nothing new that they bring to the table. When the pair find Heather (of course they're going to find her - remember, there's little imagination here), she's become an ardent environmentalist named "Earthchild," living in the wilderness with her friend Thunderstorm (Amber McDonald). The two twenty-something women live in an elaborate home in the forest constructed out of natural materials. The best way I can describe the house is that it kicks the Swiss Family Robinson's ass, but it also makes me wonder about a few things. Namely, why are two women living in such a large space? If there such environmentalists (recycling their own waste, as a line in the film mentions), why are things like nails and other man-made materials used? How did the women build this space on their own? Did they do it since high school or did they have environmentalist contractors come in and do all this work? Because two attractive women wouldn't have spent a ton of time doing this on their own, I assure you. As you can tell, I spent a bit of time thinking about this stuff, since it helped distract me from the movie itself. When I did find myself watching it for more than a few minutes at a time, my nose started bleeding inexplicably, and I got drowsy, I don't know why.
One more thing I should mention when it comes to Nature's Calling. Jerry Rice puts in an appearance by Jerry Rice. Yes, the NFL's greatest wide receiver Jerry Rice. He pops in and out of the second act as some sort of forest monster to Zach and Ben, but as it turns out he's worse than that. He's Al Gore's forgotten brother Hal. Hal apparently invented the internet and was aware of global warming long before Al was, and Al took credit (and awards) for it. Topping it off, Tipper was Hal's girlfriend before Al took her. Within the film's context, Rice's appearance made virtually no sense, and he recited his lines about as good as a football player can who appears in a straight-to-video film. Needless to say, this appearance by Rice was as pathetic as his tryout for the Denver Broncos.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Presented in 2.35:1 widescreen using the AVC MPEG-4 codec, the results are hardly inspiring. Blacks provide little contrast and are crushed, and foreground image detail is non-existent, even as film grain is visible through the feature. And when the production moves outside? Well, background image depth is substandard, which is sad considering how nice the presumed Canadian wilderness looks in normal settings. Production values aside, it's like somebody did a bad upconvert job and is trying to charge 28 bucks for it. This is a marginal upgrade over the standard definition disc at best.
Strangely enough, the film has a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track which, for a dialogue-driven, unfunny movie was a surprise. I think in large part that's due to the fact that there are, you know, rafting sequences in a rafting film, and the directional activity from the rafting is adequate enough. There are even a couple of quick scenes where the subwoofer fires to pick up on the low end, but all of the other "action" occurs in the front speakers, and it sounds clear and perfectly average.
It's surprising to see, but there are a few extras for the two people that liked the film. "Up the Creek" (10:30) is less a tribute to the 1984 Tim Matheson ode de cinema and more a making-of look at the film, as the stars share their thoughts on the film. What few thoughts on continuity on the first film are also mentioned here, and the stars also talk about the girls in the film, along with the film's larger message (wait, there's a message?). "Furious Nuts" (7:00) is a comedy bit that pokes fun at the CG squirrels by talking about the crew's exhaustive efforts to film real squirrels and with actors in squirrel costumes. Stop it - my sides. "Treehouse Tales" (3:18) is a look at the treehouse set and the design involved in it, while the gag reel (5:28) is as painful as the movie itself. Four deleted scenes (1:16) don't add anything to the final cut, and aside from a digital copy of the film, I think we're done.
Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling is kind of like Up the Creek, without the cheap laughs or gratuitous nudity. And while I never saw the first Without a Paddle film, apparently it contained the occasional nod to Deliverance. I've seen Deliverance, and Nature's Calling is no Deliverance. That said, Nature's Calling has a bad story and flat technical merits, and it made me feel like Ned Beatty sometimes, so you can see where I'm headed with this. Don't waste your time on the film.