Cole Clay // Film Critic
In the comedy THE D TRAIN, a specific event occurs that completely changes the trajectory of the film’s tone, context, and comedic perspective. Jack Black and James Marsden play opposite each other in two off-kilter performances that have the intensely likable actors playing two insufferable characters.
Imagine the random guy on Facebook from high school that’s obsessed with re-hashing the past and is straight up thirsty for attention of any kind– that’s Dan Landsman (Black), who’s in the process of planning his 20-year reunion with the iron-fisted intensity of a Dark Ages tyrant. Well, he’s not that bad, but just realize that he’s super annoying to his former classmates with his possessive attitude and “try-hard” mentality. Black lures the paunchy Dan to hammy comic relief that becomes putty in his own hands but retracts that affable grin into crippling guilt– and you have to commend co-directors Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel for pushing the boundaries.
These filmmakers know how to play both sides of the industry coin (they previously co-wrote the comedy YES MAN along with Nicolas Stoller), with their experiences in both studio and independent projects. They have discovered that blending the best of both worlds can lead the audience into the unknown with eclectic humor and deep character moments.
Dan has the social lexicon of a 17-year-old hell-bent on achieving popularity. This is amplified to eleven when he sees the hippest dude from his Pittsburgh high school, Oliver Lawless (Marsden), as a lifeguard in a national Banana Boat TV spot. He believes if he can get Lawless to come to the reunion he will be cool by association and therefore be a success in the eyes of his peers. But, you and I both know this boorish attempt at popularity is futile.
The first half of the film relies on black comedy that is awfully bold, but something unexpected occurs when Dan visits Lawless in Los Angeles for a faux business trip. This causes a butterfly effect back in his suburban home-life that could jeopardize the marriage to his wife (played by the underrated Kathryn Hahn).
Marsden is the one who stands above the rest with his effortlessly cool attitude that encapsulates the quintessential L.A. social climber. You can see why Dan craves Lawless’ attention and longs to get pulled into his gravity. To be frank, this is one of the starkest performances Black has put in the can in recent years. He is a determined cuss who takes zero umbrage in toying with the emotional psyche of his loved ones. But, it’s all for the sake of comedy, so don’t shy away too much.
THE D TRAIN has a lot of panache and a solid vision, but just can’t quite stick the landing in the film’s final minutes. The jokes become too broad when we get to the impending reunion, and it’s unrealistic conclusion is an isolating experience that will divide audiences.
THE D TRAIN opens in 1,000 theaters tomorrow.