In “The D Train,” Jack Black plays a guy who never forgot his first high school “man crush.”
Dan Landsman was the awkward lump nobody remembers. And the object of his crush? The swaggering jock, the popular and talented hunk, king of the prom.
In high school back in the ‘90s, Dan was “D-Money, D-Dogg,” but only in his mind. Even now, helping over-organize his suburban Pittsburgh high school’s 20th reunion, the balding, aging once “cool” kids don’t invite him for an after-meeting beer. His wife (Kathryn Hahn) pouts for him. That reunion is looking like a bust.
A late-night Banana Boat commercial gives him an epiphany, a vision of Oliver Lawless, the bronzed, semi-bearded god of their high school. Oliver is in Los Angeles, a Banana Boat “success” and a “celebrity.” If Dan can get Oliver to commit, maybe more classmates will “like” their Facebook page.
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The script sends “The D-Train” to L.A. in search of the elusive Oliver. Dan lies to his boss (Jeffrey Tambor) to get their failing consulting company to cover the plane ticket. But Oliver (James Marsden, spot-on) somehow has nothing better to do than hang with Dan, dragging him to bars, serving him cocaine. And falling into bed with him.
AWK-ward. But then again, the whole movie is built around Dan’s klutzy discomfort, another Jack Black “clueless about how uncool he is” character comedy.
Dan struggles to cover up his indiscretion, tries to get Oliver to cancel and failing that, adds lies upon lies to try and keep his house of cards from collapsing. Meanwhile, his teen son (Russell Posner) languishes, his pleas for advice about girls and sex and life falling on Dan’s deaf and Oliver-obsessed ears.
Co-writer/directors Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul cover “Chuck & Buck” territory, no surprise given that “Chuck” writer/star Mike White is a producer and supporting player here. “D-Train” lacks the creepy edge of “Chuck,” and without that, it’s just a slow-footed farce built around improbable lies and an even more improbable “moment of weakness.”
Marsden never takes Lawless “out there” enough to make him funny. His small-fish-in-the-Hollywood-pond stuff feels more accurate than hilarious.
And Black, aging out of his irrepressible nerd-cool persona, earns our sympathy but few laughs as this clod experiencing a dark prom/reunion night of the soul.
He and the filmmakers never find a tone that works in this R-rated treatment of a PG-13 idea. Every F-bomb, every sex gag or sexual comment, feels like an overreach and Dan just another Black character hoping the cool kids shine a little light his way.