Original, odd and almost entirely charmless The D Train exploits the lovable loser side of Jack Black to tell a high school reunion comedy that inexplicably transforms into a dour drama about sexual assault, repression and survivor’s guilt. I know you’re probably saying to yourself, “Wait, what?” I know how you feel, just stick with me. This is about to get weird. The D Train is duplicitous in its conceit, almost caught unawares of its violently two-faced nature. The off-colored handling of sexual tension proved riotous to some of the members of my audience but I felt left in the cold, deeply questioning those guffawing at instances of rape being made light of onscreen. So on the one hand, we have some very thematically heavy material, frightfully mismanaged and borderline harmfully mishandled and then we have JB, bounding around in tighty whities oblivious to the underlying implications of this sour narrative. The D Train is, to put it lightly, a very confusing (and confused) movie.
When we meet JB’s Dan Landsman all evidence points to the fact that he’s a noxious nobody. He’s the brand of personified stink bomb that claims insignificant titles (“Chairman of the Reunion Committee”) because he’s got nothing else going in his life. At home, he’s got a loving (if impractically supportive) wife in Kathryn Hahn but still finds himself deeply unsatisfied. I’m not sure if we’re meant to pity him or find his petulance amusing but hoisting said central figure up the flagpole by his underpants establishes some strange hurdles for the film to overcome.The script is tasked with turning JB’s Dan into a chubby Llewyn Davis right quick and writer/directors Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul are no Coens.
At a fated high school reunion committee meeting, Dan tasks himself with landing big fish Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), the pedestalized class cool kid and, more recently, shirtless Banana Boat spokesman. Dan insists they used to be as tight as his whities back in the day. Everyone else on the committee begs to differ. Not one to fall in line with reality, Dan cooks up a crackpot scheme that involves lying to his wife and – more importantly and completely unnecessarily – manipulating his boss into sending him to LA to land “a big deal” with a non-existent business mogul when he is only visiting the foothills of LA to meet up with Lawless with hopes of convincing him to attend the fated reunion. Sound like a movie scheme? Thought so.
Later in the film when all of Dan’s lies come to an inevitable head, a distressed Jeffrey Tambor – whose performance as a Dan’s tech-unsavvy troglodyte boss is way better than the movie deserves – asks why he had to be brought into all this. Sure the fine dining and champagne were all well and good in the moment but now the company’s in the drain. We, as thinking audience members ought to ask the same. Why Dan? Why you be such a douche? Magically, Oliver Lawless is three times as douchey. And herein lies the problem to D Train, it features two repulsive, manipulative men being repulsive and manipulative. And then there’s that whole raping thing. There’s so much to D Train that just doesn’t work, doesn’t make sense and leaves you with a fetid taste in your mouth and pretty much all of Dan and Oliver’s actions fall into this category.
D Train‘s only workable comedy comes in the form of Marsden’s inappropriate role as a sexual adviser to Dan’s son (Russell Posner), involving some image comedy involving stacked lawn chairs. Aside from that, I looked upon the characters with too much pity or resentment to summon a laugh of nearly any shape or size. That’s largely because its messages are so mixed and so off that one could conceivably confuse its confusion for malcontent. Worse, one could confuse it for actual comedy. In the age of bullying, Dan’s desperate pleas for Oliver’s approval holds a mirror up to society only to give it a big, approving thumb’s up. It’s like a movie made up 80s kids in leather jackets who still listen to White Snake while talking smack about the fat kids. Out all by it’s lonesome, this kind of thoughtless film is truly an island of shudders.
When it finally comes to a halt, The D Train arrives in the station a thinly veiled assault allegory poorly masquerading as a comedy; a stupid and ugly mess that doesn’t have the balls to own up to what it actually is and what it’s trying to say. It’s a very strange product, intended for those tickled by the “grossness” of man-on-man sex and with little capacity for sussing out deeper meaning. Which is frustrating because it really does have a good cast.