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Nearly D List

IFC Films
 101 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed byAndrew Mogel, Jarrad Paul
Starring: Jack Black, James Marsden 
D Train

Jack Black apparently wants to be the next Jonah Hill and be taken more seriously as an actor. Of course, Black faces somewhat of an uphill battle since he’s almost 15 years older than Hill. However, just as Hill shed a bit of his comic image in serious roles that netted him two Oscar nominations, Black made a start in that direction in 2011’s Bernie (which was also a steppingstone in Matthew McConaughey’s journey to respectability). Now, he’s made another somewhat more serious film, The D Train. This time, though, his career makeover seems to have been derailed.


The D Train is the story of two losers, both of whom view their upcoming 20-year high school reunion as a chance to redeem themselves. Black plays Dan Landsman, a guy who practically walks around with an “L” sign carved into his forehead. Never popular in school, he has bulled his way onto the reunion committee largely because few other people are interested. The others on the committee still won’t have anything to do with him, refusing to invite him to their post-meeting get-togethers at a local bar.


Dan sees what he envisions as his path to the respect he deserves when he watches a late night TV suntan lotion commercial featuring Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), formerly the most popular guy in the high school class, as a hunky lifeguard. Dan convinces himself that Oliver has hit it big in Hollywood and that if he can persuade Oliver to attend the reunion, he’ll gain respect as the guy who got Oliver to attend.


Dan concocts a scheme to finagle a free trip to Los Angeles to be financed by his rather old school boss, Bill Shurmur (Jeffrey Tambor). He looks up a random Los Angeles business on the Internet and then invents a story about having to go out and meet with the CEO to close a big deal. He intends to tell Shurmur later that the deal fell through. However, Shurmur gets excited by the prospect and invites himself along.


The trip proves to be a success of sorts for Dan. He meets Oliver, who the audience quickly realizes is just as big a loser in his own way as Dan is. Oliver turns out to be an aging pretty boy who’s never managed to land anything better than that one suntan lotion commercial. Oliver takes advantage of Dan’s expense account to finance an evening of booze, drugs, and, eventually, a romp in the sack with Dan (Oliver says his sexuality is no big deal). And Oliver soon realizes that returning to Pittsburgh with Dan gives him one possibly last chance to bask in the glory of being the big man for his former classmates.


Initially, Dan does gain the respect and admiration he craves so desperately from his classmates. And, because Oliver meets with Shurmur in Los Angeles and pretends to be the fictitious CEO Dan was working with, Dan becomes a hero with his boss as well, after Oliver shakes hands on a non-existent “deal.” Then, as befitting his status as a perpetual loser, Dan sees his house of cards quickly fall apart, largely due to his own insecurities.


Dan becomes jealous when Oliver starts palling around with the other committee members. He becomes more jealous when he thinks Oliver is trying to put the moves on his wife (Kathryn Hahn). He goes completely off the deep end when he realizes that the normally tight fisted Shurmur is spending money like crazy getting ready for the big deal. And, quite naturally, Dan manages to handle all these crises in the worst way possible.


Despite the presence of Jack Black and Jeffrey Tambor in the cast, there are few out-and-out funny moments in The D Train. Writer/directors Andrew Mogul and Jarrad Paul’s idea of humor seems to be inappropriate sexual comments or the very idea of James Marsden and Jack Black having gay sex. So, Oliver talks to Dan’s 15-year-old son about a threesome the son, his older girlfriend, and another girl plan on having. If you fail to see much humor in any of that, you probably won’t find the film at all funny.


The only other attempted source of laughs is the usually reliable Tambor, who at times is appropriately befuddled about technology. However, his mistakes simply aren’t outrageous enough to be funny, nor are Black’s attempts at covering them up with tech-savvy doubletalk amusing. All in all, Tambor’s technophobic subplot goes nowhere. In fact, his entire character goes nowhere. He’s supposed to be sympathetic, but it’s hard to imagine someone staying in business for years who has absolutely no idea what type of deal his salesman is putting together on a business trip they go on together. Instead of sympathetic, he’s merely pathetic.


As for Dan, I never once got the impression he was a real character. Instead, he changed moods from scene to scene as the plot dictated. In one scene, he’s horrified at the prospect that he essentially prostituted himself with Oliver. Ten minutes later, he’s jealous that Oliver is actually putting the moves on one of their female classmates. Dan seems to exist merely so that he can do the absolutely worst thing possible at every opportunity.


The D Train plays more like an interesting concept for a film than a coherent movie. Audiences can probably identify with Dan and they are looking for some reason to pull for him, but the script makes it as difficult as possible to care. This screenplay needed about two more drafts to really work. Despite its shortcomings, The D Train is often effective in ten-minute segments, such as Dan and Oliver’s bar hopping evening during which Oliver tries to impress Dan by making it appear that he knows Dermot Mulroney (the fact that being acquainted with the less than A-list Mulroney is a sign of success for Oliver and Dan is one of the most successful attempts in the movie to establish character).


Practically any one of those ten-minute segments could have been expanded into an entertaining movie. However, they all seem to be parts of different movies and, as a result, the main character is never clearly defined. Black and Marsden do good work here, but The D Train belongs on the D list. 

Read other reviews of The D Train:


The D Train (2015) on IMDb