‘The D Train’
Directors: Jarrad Paul, Andrew Mogel
Stars: Jack Black, James Marsden
2 (out of 5) Globes
There’s a really great idea in “The D Train,” one so strong that it’s a minor tragedy when, at the halfway mark, it suddenly goes limp. It’s a high school reunion film, but one that wants to explore something that never gets explored in the movies, especially broad Jack Black comedies. Black is Dan, a small town shlub with a nice wife (Kathryn Hahn) and nice kids who nevertheless longs for greatness. Instead he settles on something modest but, for him, extraordinary: He’ll track down and coax to the reunion the greatly named Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), the former coolest guy in high school who, unlike most coolest guys in high school, actually went off to Los Angeles to pursue fame. Instead he wound up, in his late 30s, in a deodorant ad, which is stature enough to blow Dan’s mind. Neither were friends 20 years prior, but they find themselves drowning the awkwardness in a sea of booze and pills. Then they have drunk sex.
Twenty, even 10, even two years ago Oliver — who states he “isn’t into labels” within two minutes of his entrance — would be seen as a pathetic predator, and their encounter would lapse into mere gay panic. “The D Train” takes a more complex and ballsy stance, especially it’s been written and directed by the team who penned “Yes Man.” It doesn’t even have any dumb gay jokes. Oliver may be pathetic, but not because of his sexuality; disheveled though he may be, he’s allowed to be who he is. Meanwhile Dan’s own bi-curious leanings are allowed to be explored and wrestled with, not merely suppressed on his road back to the traditional family lifestyle. Like “Chasing Amy,” it acknowledges then pounces on the attraction that exists between bros, with Dan not only enamored with Oliver but definitely something more.
What “The D Train” can’t do is figure out how to be progressive and farcical at the same time. After a spot-on first half — in which Dan and Oliver form a symbiotic relationship, validating each other’s deep-seated insecurity issues — the film takes them back to their hometown and proceeds to waffle through several non-starter directions. Dan is even involved in a bizarre subplot involving bankrupting his small company that’s so dumb the characters actually talk about how dumb it is in wink-winky dialogue, in a see-through attempt to neutralize its stupidity. Black remains reined in while Marsden, who’s gone from Abercrombie stud to a truly welcome screen presence, nails Oliver’s combination of rugged cool and sad desperation. But its only half the Sturgesian satire it so desperately longs to be, and no film that so wastes Kathryn Hahn can be too good.