Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 24, 2015)
Occasionally I feel bad for the folks who need to promote movies, as some films present more of a challenge than others. If you can state that the flick comes “from the director of The Dark Knight, you’re gold, but not every release boasts such appealing, obvious connections. This is why we sometimes find the most desperate blurb in the business: “from the studio that brought you…”
2015’s The D Train doesn’t stoop quite that low for its promotional claims, but it comes close. On the back of the Blu-ray case, we’re told it’s “from the comedic geniuses behind Nacho Libre and Wayne’s World”.
However, the text doesn’t explain which geniuses they mean. One assumes a quote like that would mean writers/directors Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul boasted major involvement in the two films mentioned, but neither did anything for either film.
So how does D Train connect to those earlier movies? Jack Black and Mike White had a lot to do with Nacho Libre - though neither wrote/directed it – whereas the only link to Wayne’s World comes from the presence of producer Barnaby Thompson on both.
I guess that beats “from the studio…”, but not by much. Back in high school, Dan Landsman (Jack Black) tended to be unpopular, and this hasn’t changed in the decades since then. As his class’s 20th reunion approaches, he comes up with a plan to alter his “uncool” status.
Dan flies from his Pittsburgh home to LA to find high school BMOC Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) and convince him to come to the reunion. Dan figures they’ll become pals and this will make him cool by association. It doesn’t quite work out that way, as Oliver invades Dan’s life in unexpected ways.
We’ve seen many movies of this sort, which leaves the question: how will D Train distinguish itself from its siblings? It attempts an edginess that one wouldn’t normally expect from the mid-life crisis/reunion genre, but that becomes more of a liability than a strength.
The biggest issue stems from the film’s inconsistency. It never quite knows where it wants to go, and it jumps from raunchy comedy to quirky character piece to family drama in the blink of an eye. The shifts in tone wouldn’t bother me if they succeeded, but Train lacks the investment to pull off any of them, so we’re left with a meandering experience.
Train also suffers from a weak lead performance by Black. He plays Dan solely in wacky, broad comedy mode, so he brings nothing to the character’s journey or dramatic side.
Black also fails to add any sense of humanity or warmth to his role. To some degree, we should root for Dan and empathize for him as he tries to overcome the wounds of decades past. Unfortunately, Black sticks with his usual wacky, wild-eyed jokester and he accentuates Dan’s jerky side so heavily that he becomes actively unlikable.
Marsden does much better as Oliver. He gives his part the appropriate mix of cockiness and vulnerability, as he shows the contrast between Oliver’s glorious past and his less than successful present.
If Black could live up to Marsden’s work, D Train might fare better, but the two feel like they’re in different movies. Since Black dominates the one we see, the end result flops. Not funny enough to succeed as a comedy and not insightful enough to work as a drama, D Train disappoints.