Review: THE D TRAIN, No Direction Home

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas (@peteramartin)
Review: THE D TRAIN, No Direction Home

Dan Landsman is not a thin fellow.

Also, none of Dan's old school friends in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, want to hang out with him anymore. Dan embraces the former, but the latter gnaws away at him. He yearns to hang out with the other members of the 20th anniversary high school reunion committee, but the men make excuses and the women scurry away after their regular meeting.

This makes Dan sad, because it means he must go home and spend time with his lovely and supportive wife Stacey (Kathryn Hahn) and their children, 14-year-old Zach (Russell Posner) and an infant. He's a bit prissy with the other committee members, and neglectful of his family, but not to extreme degrees, so it's hard to figure out why he repels old friends and attracts attention from his family.

Then he spies high school classmate Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) in a television commercial and seizes on the idea of inviting him to the reunion. He tells his fellow committee members that the presence of Oliver, the most popular kid in their class, will draw former classmates who have been dragging their feet about attending the reunion. Dan quickly becomes so obsessed with inviting the still-handsome Oliver that he lies to his boss (Jeffrey Tambor) and wife about his real reason for flying to Los Angeles, inventing a big sales opportunity as cover, and creating complications when his boss insists on coming along.

Now, ostensibly, The D Train is a comedy, and the movie is shot by Giles Nuttgens, director of photography, and cut by Terel Gibson, film editor, as though it's a comedy, all light and airy and bouncy. Black gives an over-the-top performance, as though it's a comedy, too; his unusual gait and tight clothing adds unneeded emphasis to the doughy shape of his body, intended, perhaps, to draw mean-spirited ridicule from the audience. (No other character in the movie ever mentions it.) Although I didn't find much of anything to laugh about, comedy is so intrinsically personal that others may find it hilarious.

Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, who wrote and directed, may have intended the tone to be subversive, yet it ends up unclear what, exactly, they had in mind. The character of Dan is patently pathetic; a sad-sack who pretends to be happy in such convincing fashion that he's completely duped his boss and his wife. While his boss is played as a clueless technophobe, his wife appears to be a genuinely kind and empathetic person. She gives no evidence of lacking intelligence or perception, so is she simply too nice to notice Dan's imperfections? It's unclear and unfocused, which is reflective of the movie as a whole.

I've stepped carefully around major spoilers, but suffice it to say that the plot turns on something that happens while Dan is visiting Los Angeles. It affects the balance of the picture, as Dan deals with the consequences in very clumsy fashion, but it fails to inform the characters in any meaningful manner.

Black's performance is slightly reminiscent of his fine work as the titular character in Richard Linklater's Bernie (2011), a fussy sort of person with limited charm or appeal. Now imagine Bernie without charm or appeal. The D Train jumps off the tracks early and often, and never finds them again.

The film opens in select theaters across the U.S. via IFC Films on Friday, May 8.

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Jack BlackJames MarsdenJeffrey TamborKathryn Hahn

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