Movie Review: “The D Train”

Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor, Russell Posner
Andrew Mogul & Jarrad Paul

If you followed the news coming out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, then you know that it was a very busy year for acquisitions, including Andrew Mogul and Jarrad Paul’s directorial debut, “The D Train.” Of course, not every movie that gets purchased at Sundance is a surefire hit, and based on the tepid reaction that the film received from attendees, it makes you question why IFC would spend a cool $3 million for the distribution rights. Though it boasts a pair of bankable stars in Jack Black and James Marsden, and features a surprising twist that’s better left unspoiled, this dark comedy about how far someone is willing to go to become popular falls disappointingly flat.

Black stars as Dan Landsman, a schlubby loser who works for an antiquated consulting firm in Pittsburgh and serves as the chairman of his high school’s alumni committee. After seeing popular classmate Oliver Lawless (Marsden) in a Banana Boat sunscreen commercial on TV one night, Dan devises a plan to fly out to Los Angeles and convince Oliver to make an appearance at their upcoming 20-year reunion in the hope that it’ll get more people to attend and earn him the respect of his peers. Dan doesn’t have any trouble tracking Oliver down, but when a wild night of partying takes an unexpected turn (hint: it gives the term “bromance” a whole other meaning), he becomes strangely infatuated with the struggling actor, leading to much bigger problems in his personal and professional life.

The title of the film refers to Dan’s persistent attempts to give himself a cool nickname, and that seemingly trivial personality trait tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the kind of guy that he is. So far removed from the popular crowd in high school that his fellow classmates don’t even remember him, Dan tries way too hard to impress, and that desperation follows him around like a cloud of body odor. It’s a little sad, until you realize that Dan is a marginally self-centered and obnoxious dweeb who doesn’t really deserve the audience’s sympathy. In fact, neither Dan nor Oliver are very likable characters, and that poses a problem that the movie is never able to solve.

Black and Marsden are both fine in their respective roles, despite the fact that they seem stuck in neutral, and Kathryn Hahn delivers a typically solid performance as Dan’s loyal wife, but while there are a few funny bits scattered throughout (like when Oliver gives Dan’s teenage son advice on threesomes), for a supposed comedy, it squanders the talent of its three stars. Additionally, although the movie embraces its darker side in the final act as Dan begins to exude a creepy, stalkerish vibe, it never feels like Mogul and Paul are pushing the envelope as far as they could. The script is so thinly plotted that it never fully explores Dan’s obsession with Oliver, while the subplot involving his clueless boss (Jeffrey Tambor) is incredibly dumb and pointless. Even at 97 minutes long, the story feels like it’s being stretched to feature length, and by the time “The D Train” has anything important to say (albeit at the cost of some poorly conceived, mildly homophobic jokes), the shock of the central plot device has worn off.