The D Train worth catching | Reviews | Creative Loafing Charlotte
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The D Train worth catching 

Rating: ***

DIRECTED BY Jarrad Paul & Andrew Mogel
STARS Jack Black, James Marsden

Jack Black and James Marsden in The D Train (Photo: IFC Films)
  • Jack Black and James Marsden in The D Train (Photo: IFC Films)

On paper, The D Train sounds as generic as movies get, no less an exercise in formula than the glop Gerber manufactures for babies. There's a 20th anniversary high school reunion on the horizon, and the guy who once was the least popular kid in his class hopes to elevate his social status by arriving at the shindig with the dude who was known as the coolest kid in the school. Cue the groans.

In actuality, The D Train hits far more than it misses, and that's largely because of the work of its two stars. Jack Black stars as Dan Landsman, who even as an adult remains friendless, though he did manage to find a wife (Kathryn Hahn) and sire two children. James Marsden plays Oliver Lawless, a drama class stud who followed his dream and now lives in Los Angeles, hawking Banana Boat sunscreen on national TV. Figuring he will be accepted by everyone if he shows up with Oliver at his side, Dan travels from Pittsburgh to LA to convince the devil-may-care actor to attend the reunion.

So far, so predictable. But what's not predictable is the manner in which the relationship between Dan and Oliver unfolds, or the particulars of the characters Black and Marsden carve out. Dan isn't just a sad sack worthy of pity but also an annoyingly clingy man-child who's not above lying to those closest to him, including his wife and his mentor-boss (a nice turn by Jeffrey Tambor). And Oliver isn't just a charming rogue but a narcissistic prick who has no trouble cutting people off whenever he feels like it.

In addition to showcasing some exemplary acting — I also liked Russell Posner, who's both gawky and thoughtful as the Landsmans' 14-year-old son — the movie deserves credit for the manner in which writer-directors Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel avoid the gay panic emblematic of modern comedies, even when the story's narrative appears to be heading that way. Paul and Mogel unfortunately don't really know how to end the picture, and all the connect-the-dot resolutions seem a bit too schematic. But for the most part, The D Train provides a satisfying ride for adventurous moviegoers who don't mind a dash of acidity squirt all over their popcorn.

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