The D Train (2015) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for strong sexual material, nudity, language and drug use
Running Time: 97 min.
Cast: Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor, Russell Posner, Mike White, Henry Zebrowski, Kyle Bornheimer
Director: Andrew Mogel, Jarrad Paul
Screenplay: Jarrad Paul, Andrew Mogel
Review published May 12, 2015
Jack Black (Sex Tape, Year One) plays Dan Landsman, a misfit who never left his suburban Pittsburgh neighborhood and has ended up chairing his high school class's 20th anniversary reunion committee, a task he's dedicated to in order to show the class that ignored him that he amounts to something. He's making very little headway drumming up interest in potential attendees, and things look pretty bleak as far as turnout. A light bulb burns brightly overhead when Dan sees a commercial on TV starring a familiar face, Oliver Lawless (Marsden, Unfinished Business), perhaps the most popular guy in his class. If he can get Oliver to come to the reunion, surely that will sway others to come too, and even better, he can tell the rest of them how he is buddies with that popular guy who has made good on his dreams to be a big-time Hollywood actor.
That's when the lies begin. Dan has to lie to his boss (Tambor, Win Win) to get him to spring for a ticket to go to Los Angeles in order to secure a much-needed business deal that he's made up. He has to lie to his wife (Hahn, This is Where I Leave You) in order for her to not be suspicious of his intentions. He has to lie to Oliver so he doesn't catch on that he's merely trying to recruit him to come to the reunion. But the real trouble begins when Dan, in an effort to impress the "coolest of cool" in Oliver, joins him for cocaine and alcohol-fueled night of hedonism that ends with him crossing the line with his boss as well as his wife, were they to find out about what he's done. He might not even be able to live with the knowledge of what he's done himself.
Scribes Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul (Yes Man, "Allen Gregory") take their first stab at directing and end up delivering a wildly mixed bag that veers from amusing to painful to watch. It's a tale of two halves, with the first half of the film, set mostly in Los Angeles after a few scenes in Dan's home town, delivering some funny moments despite a half-baked plot. Something happens in L.A. that Dan's determined to stay there, and while I won't spoil the surprise as to what that something is, I will say that, after Dan returns home, whatever good will and comedic momentum the film had going for it up to that point, it all comes to a screeching halt. You can almost hear the thunderous metallic sound of the entire project derailing into a ravine of its own making.
Rather than face the music of his own actions, Dan would rather continue to tell bigger lies and manipulate the people who love him in order to cover things up -- played for laughs, but we can't find it funny when the actions are so detestable. Really, is there anyone less deserving of love and friendship than Dan? The man who would rather see his benevolent boss throw away his lifelong business rather than fess up the truth about his intentions? Or his marriage to a woman he is absolutely lucky to have? Or even his own reputation -- willing to get addicted to cocaine, no less, because he can't say no to not seeming cool. He's spineless, gutless, and even lies to himself, and yet everyone else just understands without condition, even when he has screwed them over in a selfish, childish way.
While there are funny moments, and game performances, The D Train is all about set-up to an event that the writer-directors have no way out of, as if they've painted themselves into a proverbial corner. You end up feeling bad for Dan, but worse for the victims of his own insecurities, and by the end, we kinda feel bad for ourselves for enduring a barrage of degrading embarrassments that are more squirm-inducing and disheartening than funny. I'm OK with uncomfortable humor, but this one just makes you feel icky. We don't want a happy ending because, frankly, we don't like Dan, leaving what happens at the end without any particular interest or resonance. The D Train is a fitting title, not only for the underlying d-word slang name that ties in with the main twist, but also because it's a train wreck of a film -- once it's off the track, it never gets back on it.
©2015 Vince Leo