Similar to director Stephen Brill's 2004 buddy comedy starring Dax Shepherd (Baby Mama), Matthew Lillard (Scream) and Seth Green (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), the direct-to-DVD and Blu-ray sequel centers on grown men struggling to get their friendship back on track via an outrageous adventure.
While the first movie used an ingenious premise of trying to hunt down real life criminal D.B. Cooper's lost loot for uneven comedy fodder, the newer film takes a strictly fictitious route all the way with completely different actors and aside from the main premise, using the memorable hippie "tree girl" characters as the link between the two movies. Finding the genesis of the story in asking himself just who the tree girls were and how they came to be, screenwriter Stephen Mazur (who penned such comedy hits as Heartbreakers and Liar, Liar but intriguingly had no tie with the first Paddle film) sends the guys on a hunt for a long lost love.
Setting up the plot by taking us back to their awkward teen years, we meet the thunder-struck Ben who falls hard and fast in his freshman year for a beautiful vegetarian named Heather. When he convinces her that he too has a remarkable interest in the rights of lab rats, he figures their love is destined but that changes when she's kicked out of school for setting the rats free.
Many years later, Ben (Oliver James) has become an uptight workaholic lawyer, using way too much of his energy defending scrumbags who shot up a deli and jumped bail instead of on the civil rights cases he longs to dedicate himself to and he's fallen out of touch with his best pal Zach (Kristopher Turner). A flirtatious nursing home employee who treats life as though he's still in high school-- playing ball and partying-- when his favorite resident (The Wedding Singer's rapping granny Ellen Albertini Dow) asks him to track down her missing granddaughter, he's stunned to discover that it's Heather.
Last seen around Oregon, Zach enlists Ben on a "a big ass man-cation," and grudgingly brings Heather's uptight British step-brother Nigel (Rik Young) along for the trip. And predictably the trio plunge directly into the wilder side of life, white water rafting, fighting off determined, martial arts prone, impossibly angry squirrels until they ultimately meet up with the tree girls-- namely, Heather who now goes by her hippie name "Earthchild" and her best friend.
Solidly entertaining for the first thirty to forty minutes, the film offers some wildly impressive white water rafting cinematography and direction from helmer Ellroy Elkayem that heightens the adventure aspect. Soon, Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling feels much more River Wild than the previous film (and coming through beautifully blue and crystal clear in a sparkling Blu-ray transfer) but once the CGI squirrels begin to unleash their reign of terror on the guys, the movie quickly becomes a ridiculous live-action cartoon that seems to be going for an ADD version of Warner Brothers' famous Looney Tunes, moving uneasily between the humans and computer animated rodents.
Still, it's a scene stealing turn from Rik Young working in the same vein of many smarmy yuppie SNL movie Rob Lowe-like characters that helps keep things afloat. Although he annoys the other two men as the product-happy British metrosexual "lovable rogue" (as the making-of featurette dubs him), he continually cracks us up even when the film-- along with the three characters-- officially gets lost in the woods.
While their eventual meet-up with the "tree girls," turns the film into a PG-13 version of American Pie, Mazur's script does surprise throughout with refreshing bursts of humor as the guys argue over which one would be the Matt Damon and which one is the Ben Affleck (although some would argue that particular reference would've worked better in the 2004 film).
Still, despite the fact that it's easily forgettable and more of a brainless weekend rental than a must-own with the previous B-movie original feeling far superior, NFL favorite Jerry Rice gets a hilarious cameo as Al Gore's unappreciated brother "Hal Gore" who's still bitter about his brother stealing the love of his life (Tipper!) and becoming the world's best loved spokesperson for the environment that's worth suffering through all the over-done CGI animals.
While the bonus HD featurette "Up The Creek: The Making of Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling" is a bit overly long and-- aside from watching Rice crack himself up, the gag reel and deleted scenes are forgettable-- the funniest featurette concerns the least successful aspect of the film.
In "Furious Nuts," we meet hilarious studio executive Reginald R. Reynolds, who-- along with the cast and filmmakers-- spin yarns about hiring an A-list method actor to play a squirrel in a Christopher Guest like mini-mockumentary that almost (but not quite) justifies the cheesy existence of the creatures just for the Blu-ray extra.
Additionally, despite their male-fantasy caricatures, the special "Treehouse Tales," which focuses on the highly feminine and completely unrealistic yet lovable set of the "tree girls" is of particular interest for those who enjoy production design. Impressively, while all of the featurettes (aside from the deleted scenes and gag reel) are available in High Definition and the film is surprisingly sharp for straight-to-disc fare with high quality sound, I must admit that the colors do start to appear a bit muted once the guys hit the water. The reason for this could possibly have been due to the strenuous shoot as we discover in the featurette, yet with some color-setting tweaking on your television, you can help make the sharpness and contrast "pop" as I found "vivid" to work the best for this title.
And granted, it's hard to keep watching after those furious squirrels manage to distract almost as much as the Abominable Snowmen in last year's The Mummy 3, Young and the rest of the cast do their best work when the humor is left to the humans instead of the hyper hoodlum squirrels.