By Kurt Jensen
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — "The D Train" (IFC) is presumably intended to be a droll comedy about the pursuit of fame and the vagaries of sexual experimentation. What it amounts to instead is a consistently cynical, occasionally depraved exercise in strained humor.
Writers and co-directors Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul have assembled unlikable characters in a standard plot.
The contrast they draw between the seemingly dull lot of one of their main characters, an Everyman figure, and the indulgent lifestyle of the other, a quasi-celebrity, is hardly novel. Such a hackneyed theme also provides only the shakiest of structures in which to shelter their real agenda: a relentless series of crude sexual jokes.
With the 20-year-reunion of his high school class looming, schlubby Pittsburgh native Dan (Jack Black) is determined to take charge of the event. Reunions, of course, provide an opportunity to take stock of life, and Dan concludes that his has been marked by nothing but mundane disappointment.
Dan married his supportive high-school sweetheart Stacey (Kathryn Hahn), with whom he has a sensitive 14-year-old son, Zach (Russell Posner). But he’s saddled with a boring job and feels the need to be "important" in the face of potential insults from his former schoolmates.
Inspiration comes when Dan recognizes Oliver (James Marsden), the hunky actor in a national sunscreen commercial, as a fellow graduate. Since Oliver has broken out from the workaday world, ensuring his attendance at the reunion will guarantee its success — and finally give Dan the popularity to which he believes he’s entitled.
Dan heads to Los Angeles, having somehow convinced Bill (Jeffrey Tambor), his kindhearted boss, that Oliver is a prospective investor in their business. Oliver is more than happy to renew his high school connections because he’s not as successful as Dan thinks. In fact, he’s had to make several significant compromises just to eke out a living in show business.
Amiable but completely amoral, Oliver maintains a flexible sexuality as circumstances require. "I’m not into labels — like, whatever," he says, to which Dan replies, ""Cool. Cool."
A hard-partying night on the town leads them back to Oliver’s apartment where an intoxicated encounter takes place. Dan is mortified, and this dark secret propels the rest of the plot, giving rise both to double-entendres and to Dan’s occasional attempts to overcompensate in his marital love life.
The movie’s tone degenerates still further when Oliver returns to Steel City as Dan’s houseguest. Predictably, Oliver makes Dan’s home a base for his commitment-free shenanigans.
More surprisingly, he also begins to exercise a malignant, almost predatory influence over Zach. Zach’s girlfriend, it seems, is intent on flouting the old adage that three’s a crowd, and Zach seeks Oliver’s counsel on the subject.
In the course of responding with grotesquely inappropriate advice, Oliver quizzes Zach — whose age would suggest he’s at most a freshman in high school — about his sexual history.
Oliver’s arrival at the reunion is, of course, a big hit. But Dan, by this point, is seething with resentment, and the plot resolution, after all the truth is out, tries to mask real family pain with stale platitudes.
The film contains strong sexual content — including a semigraphic scene of marital lovemaking, off screen homosexual adultery, fleeting rear nudity and explicit references to aberrant acts — drug use and pervasive rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.