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"THE D TRAIN"
(2015) (Jack Black, James Marsden) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: A high school reunion committee leader tries to be cool for the first time in his life by convincing a former classmate, now a TV commercial actor, to attend their 20th anniversary reunion.
PLOT:
Dan Landsman (JACK BLACK) has always longed to be popular, something he clearly never was back in his Pittsburg high school two decades ago and still hasn't obtained. That's proven when others in his high school reunion committee -- including former classmates Craig (HENRY ZEBROWSKI), Randy (KYLE BORNHEIMER), Jerry (MIKE WHITE) and Lucy (CORRINA LYONS) -- don't invite him to go drinking with them.

When he spots their class' most popular student, Oliver Lawless (JAMES MARSDEN), in a suntan lotion commercial, he gets a crazy idea. If he can convince the L.A. based actor to attend their reunion, Dan will then be popular through association.

To get that ball rolling, Dan convinces his technophobe boss, Bill Shurmar (JEFFREY TAMBOR), that he has a new potential consulting client in Los Angeles and needs to fly out to meet him. What he doesn't expect is that Bill wants to come along to land the business, and despite his best efforts to convince his boss to stay home, the two fly across the country. Dan convinces Oliver to meet him for drinks, and after a night of partying, Oliver pretends to be the business prospect in a meeting with Bill.

The ruse only becomes more tangled when Dan and Oliver have an unexpected, drunken and drugged up one-night stand. Arriving back home, Dan isn't sure what to tell his wife, Stacey (KATHRYN HAHN), while Oliver's later arrival there complicates matters, especially when the actor encourages Dan's 14-year-old son, Zach (RUSSELL POSNER), to lose his virginity via a planned three-way encounter with his older girlfriend and another girl. With the reunion quickly approaching, Dan must contend with these unexpected developments as well as what occurred between him and Oliver.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
I consider myself a fairly well-adjusted 51-year-old man whose high school years are so far removed that it's shocking to see current photos of former classmates who I haven't seen in decades (although I'm sure they have the same reaction upon seeing yours truly all these trips around the solar system later).

Yet, there are still those fleeting moments where I'll find myself -- especially upon catching sight of said pics -- feeling animosity for some of those people due to the way they treated me all those years ago.

By now, you've probably guessed I wasn't the most popular kid in school, and with curly locks when straight hair was in, Coke bottle glasses, sporting a last name always associated with girls, and being somewhat small for my age at that time, I was an easy target.

As often occurs in movies where such classmates are reunited decades later, however, I'm sure none of them have the slightest recollection of how they treated me (or, for some, even a memory of my existence). Thus, a movie about such a guy who's still trying to fit in and goes to extreme measures to impress at his twentieth high school reunion should obviously appeal to souls like me, yes?

Alas, "The D Train" -- a dramedy starring Jack Black as a sales guy who tries to land his school's former most popular dude and current TV commercial spokesman (James Marsden) as his big "get" for the reunion -- ends up trying too hard, much like its protagonist.

Written and directed by Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, the story centers on Black's character who's apparently become -- either for years or perhaps just recently considering he's on the reunion committee -- an opportunistic liar. He somehow managed to land and wed one of the popular girls at school (Kathryn Hahn) and father a now 14-year-old son (Russell Posner), and he works at a consulting firm where the boss (Jeffrey Tambor) is oblivious to technology the way only movie characters are nowadays.

When he spots Marsden's character in a TV ad hawking a popular suntan lotion, he figures if he can convince the "star" to come to the reunion, he'll score a finder's fee in terms of popularity and thus erase his former and apparent still current status of being a nobody. Following Sir Walter Scott's old saying of "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive" he proceeds to tell one lie after another, first to his wife and boss about the need to travel to L.A. for business, then to get into the actor's good graces, and then to have said thespian pretend to be the businessman from the first part of the ruse.

Along the way, he ends up partying with the former BMOC (who turns out to have a propensity for bending the truth as well), followed by a quick bout of impromptu gay sex. I'm guessing that's where the flick is supposed to hit its high gear in terms of comedy and theme, but much like their character after that, the filmmakers seem confused about how to proceed. That act obviously results in more lying -- none of which, by the way, adds up to the presumably intended hilarity that I'm guessing was supposed to be building to an incredible crescendo by this point.

But rather than have Dan ending up way over his head and only digging himself deeper as he tries to claw his way out of his lie-filled sinkhole, Mogel and Paul have him continue to seek out Oliver's approval and acceptance -- just for different (confused sexuality) reasons. I suppose that twist could have taken the story to intriguing and dark places, but it simply continues to unravel as it unfolds.

Worse than that, there's never a good reason for the protagonist's level of lying, something brought out by his boss once the truth is learned. Tambor's hurt character quietly asks why Dan didn't do this or do that rather than what he tried to pull off (a question many viewers will also be pondering). Yet, rather than come up with something creative, all they give Dan is a shrug and verbal response that he just doesn't know.

If you enjoy Black's usual shtick -- albeit toned down just a smidge here -- you might enjoy the offering, but it's worn out its welcome for yours truly and thus the performance and overall film was often grating for me. Fans of Marsden probably won't mind his portrayal of the former popular kid in school who only has fleeting glimpses of said status in years hence, and he's decent in the role. Hahn and Tambor are okay in their supporting bits, but don't get a lot of support to flesh out their characters.

In the end, the film is unsuccessful at being a funny, if ribald R-rated comedy, or an examination of how deep old high school wounds might run and the lengths to which such victims might go to feel important even decades later. "The D Train" never fully arrives at the station and thus rates as a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed April 26, 2015 / Posted May 8, 2015


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