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Sundance Review: Jack Black can’t keep ‘D Train’ on track

February 3rd, 2015 Posted in Arts and Life

By Katie Swain

PARK CITY — Earnest, dorky, obsessive, overly-friendly in the way that somehow produces no friends . . . and after about 15 minutes you find yourself wondering how Jack Black is playing the same character in yet another film that will probably be referred to almost immediately as “that new Jack Black comedy, yeah, you know the type, they all run together.”

Jack Black (Ben Hansen photo)

Jack Black (Ben Hansen photo)

Premiering at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, “The D Train” follows the self-made disaster trail of high school reunion committee chairman Dan Landsman (Jack Black) as he attempts to make his 20-year reunion the cool party he clearly never got invited to while in high school. Despite his bored committee members and uninterested student body, Landsman doggedly sends out Facebook invites, emails, letters and personal phone calls, but for some reason manically invading someone’s life and insisting your party’s going to be fun only solidifies your commitment not to attend said party. (If there’s one thing this generation’s all regretting, it’s how easy it will be for our own high school committee organizers to pester us. Hello, social media.)

After recognizing the star of a sunscreen commercial for Banana Boat as old high school “It” boy Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), Landsman decides the only way to save the reunion is to convince the failed Hollywood star himself to attend. If Lawless RSVP’d, it would certainly cause a tidal wave of interest from the remainder of the old student body. (To be fair, I’m pretty sure that is how high school actually worked).

D (Ben Hansen photo)

James Marsden (Ben Hansen photo)

Landsman becomes obsessed with his plan and finally decides to take a fake business trip to LA to ensure Lawless’s RSVP. First though, Landsman has to set up an unnecessary, disaster-waiting-to-happen, plan-with-a-capital-P scheme so he’ll have an excuse to take a few days off without everyone wondering where he’s gone. The plan is immediately upset when Landsman tells his obliviously old school and adorably technologically-averse boss (Jeffrey Tambor) that he has a meeting with a potentially very big client, and Tambor’s character insists on coming along to help out. (Something tells me Landsman probably got caught faking sick a lot in high school.)

Landsman’s plan and life in general pretty much train-wrecks right off the bat. As one thing after another blows up in Landsman’s face I found myself getting bored by the rather predictable performances by Black and Marsden. The real performance came from Tambor, who is so innocently endearing you can’t help but cringe as he becomes another tragic casualty as “The D Train” marches on at a predictable pace with few surprises or bright spots.

Jeffrey Tambor (Ben Hansen photo)

Jeffrey Tambor (Ben Hansen photo)

Then there’s the half-hearted gesture at the end to make the movie seem like it’s supposed to be a feel-good film and not just slapstick (don’t get excited, it’s pretty much just slapstick). The movie was also listed by Out Magazine as an LGBT film “attendees will not want to miss.” But don’t get your hopes up there either, the movie is neither a must-see, nor LGBT-themed, unless you count a rather obscene running gag of a gay sex scene between two of the protagonists as an LGBT film, which I don’t. Tambor, who has done a lot for spreading conversation on LGBT issues in the Amazon Prime original series “Transparent,” which just won a best TV series Golden Globe (plus a best actor award for Tambor himself), did say he hoped the film would produce good conversation and bring people together “overcoming their fear of ‘the other.’” (Although he was speaking at the premiere before he’d actually seen the film.)

Also acting as producer for the film, Black claimed his involvement with the film was a “no-brainer,” despite never really working with first-time directors before, because the script was “the funniest thing he’d read all year.” Uncomfortably funny in a vaguely over-the-top way, yes, but almost as soon as the credits start to roll, “The D Train” begins to blend in with a sea of other over-blown comedies you’ll probably end up watching way more than you ever intended. (Did anyone really ever plan on watching “Nacho Libre” more than once??)

Rookie directors Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul successfully put together a movie that will undoubtedly be watched—IFC has already purchased the U.S. rights and plans to release “The D Train” theatrically later this year, according to The Hollywood Reporter — but the biggest surprise of “The D Train” will be if anyone actually remembers it a year or two from now.


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