Portly everyman Dan Landsman (Jack Black) is a caring husband, father and overzealous chairman of his high school reunion committee. Fearing his past unpopularity will retroactively stunt turnout, Dan finds resolution in a late-night Banana Boat ad starring the most popular man from his graduating class, Oliver Lawless (James Marsden). Buttering up his technologically ignorant boss to procure a competent front, Dan treks west to L.A. to solicit his debaucherous foil’s attendance to guarantee all a reunion for the ages. Unfortunately for him, the innocuously deceitful plan goes increasingly south when a hiccup threatens to upend more than just a get together.
The D Train is an out-and-out enigma in the realm of similarly R-rated fare. Although this descriptor is spoilery in and of itself, it’s still possible to criticize around major plot points as I outline just where and when the film goes (ambitiously) AWOL. For starters, the persona perpetuated by Black’s character is a familiar one – an identifiable former loser that’s transitioned comfortably enough into the paternal archetype he is. Disrespected and neglected by his current peers, it’s no surprise that The D Train ventures along the path it does to evoke the laughs it aims to. Given a mid-first to second act avalanche of a plot device however, the film transitions from typically niche to bizarre via muddied thematic and tonal substance.
In between many an instance of anachronistic yet delightful ’80s scoring, we’re often left pondering the film’s end game. While the bombshell of a turning point does enough to pique involvement, it’s hard to decipher exactly what The D Train aims to incisively explore – if anything – as the crux unfolds. The palpably genre-melding structure remains effective, yet it’s truly difficult to determine what angle this driving impetus is meant to make us speculate about. It’s all negligible in the end, yet to go the route it does leaves us feeling unfulfilled as invested viewers expecting a diversion from comparable efforts steeped in this volume of vulgarity.
This indecisive pursuit of uniqueness brands The D Train as a decidedly ambitious failure. Employing familiar character tropes to a surprisingly strange degree, the film doesn’t so much subvert formula as it does our perception of those contributing it to the medium. It’s enjoyable in spurts, but to so fervently mold its proceedings according to the outcome of a prominent mishap, wrapping things up this conventionally is head-scratching. Bonus points for actors’ perpetuated charisma and general appeal, of course – just don’t expect to walk away from this experience with a positive opinion of anyone but Hahn and Tambor as the bamboozled supporting players.