What It’s About
An interesting premise that sours quickly, “The D Train” squanders Jack Black’s goofy charms in an off-putting role.
Black plays Dan Landsman, a nondescript sort who desperately wants to re-invent himself as a cool kid for the upcoming 20th class reunion. As the committee chair, he works with classmates who considered him invisible, a perception that haunts him as an adult.
Self-absorbed and craving attention, Dan is flat-out unlikable. For all his bluster, he neglects his son who needs his guidance, doesn’t appreciate his wife, and destroys his boss’s goodwill.
He stayed in Pittsburgh, but is caught up in “the grass is greener on the other side” mentality. One night, he sees the class’ most popular dude in a suntan lotion commercial. He believes that if he can convince Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) to come home, he’ll be hailed as a hero.
Only his method is madness. He dupes his boss (Jeffrey Tambor) and lies to everyone close to him as his scheme spirals out of control. He corners Oliver in Hollywood. The guy is a narcissistic jerk but Dan, blinded by the tiniest glimmer of fame, thinks he’s a major catch. Wild partying and a few u-turns ensue between the new buds.
When the Big Shot comes back to town, batten down the hatches.
Black, who was revelatory in “Bernie,” and should have received more accolades for that in 2011, reverts to a caricature — the slippery guy with enormous bravado and a big chip on his shoulder. We’ve seen it countless times before. He can do better. Perhaps the character’s behavior did not need to be so extreme.
Marsden (“X-Men”) has plenty of swagger as a show biz wannabe, and exudes bad-boy charm, with his insincerity masking insecurity.
In supporting roles, Kathryn Hahn excels as Dan’s supportive spouse, while Russell Posner is noteworthy as his son. Tambor (”Transparent”) delivers another strong performance as Dan’s boss.
Everyone can relate to how high school defines many people, so a few moments resonate, and that might be enough to salvage the dark comedy for some.
What Doesn’t Work
But as disappointing as it was promising, this mid-life crisis retread is disjointed, crying out to be rescued as the awkward elements take over. As things go from bad to worse for Dan and his family, situations are painfully uncomfortable.
I don’t understand why there are so many ’80s songs at a Class of 1994 reunion, either.
But keeping it real doesn’t seem to be a concern for the filmmakers Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, primarily TV sitcom writers who co-wrote and co-directed this mixed bag.
2 stars out of 4
Directors: Andrew Mogel, Jarrad Paul
Starring: Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor, Mike White, Russell Posner
Rated: R for strong sexual material, nudity, language and drug use