The D Train, the creepy new dramedy with Jack Black, is a journey to the end of the line, the ultimate Seth Rogen-James Franco bromance film taken to its logical conclusion. This Is the End unfurled the flag and The D Train hoists it up the flagpole. It is just too bad that The D Train is not a better film as a coffin nail to a genre.
Jack Black is Dan Landsman, a manipulative creep who has positioned himself as the chairman of his Pittsburgh high school reunion committee. He holds sway over the committee by keeping the login to his twenty year high school alumni reunion Facebook page to himself, in an ill-concealed effort to get back at all his high school enemies on the committee. Rancor to his classmates has festered over the last two decades. Even now, with a beautiful (if unsympathetic) wife (the great but underused Kathryn Hahn) and a kindly teenage son (Russell Posner), Dan can’t help paying forward his bitterness — after some cynical advice to his son about dating, he tells his wife, “Just preparing him for certain realities of high school.”
Dan has obsessively made this high school reunion his only worldly concern. Unfortunately, Dan and the alumni committee can’t seem to encourage alumni to attend the affair. That is, until he spots classmate Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), one of the few people from his graduating class to make it out of Pittsburgh, on a late night Banana Boat suntan lotion commercial. Figuring that if he could land Oliver to come to the reunion, others will follow and Dan will transform himself into a success and show up everyone. To get to that point he has to travel to L.A. to convince Oliver to appear at the reunion. Tricking his well-meaning boss (Jeffrey Tambor) to pay the way to L.A., Dan meets up with Oliver, who agrees to attend after a raucous night on the town of wild club hopping, booze, and drugs that culminates at Oliver’s apartment, where Oliver seduces Dan and they have a night of unrestrained sex. After this sexual episode, Dan, questioning and repulsed by his surprising sexual abandon, now has to figure out how to convince Oliver not to come to the reunion.
First time directors Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel attempt to set up what could have been a dark satire culminating in the high school reunion night, but their timing is way off. Oliver’s seduction of Dan occurs before the halfway mark of the film (it would have been more effective if this had taken place as the penultimate scene), and all the roiling issues unleashed by Oliver and Dan’s coupling are left dangling as the directors/screenwriters flail about afraid to confront their own issues. A subplot concerning a three-way sexual frolic involving Dan’s son further obscures the issue and then when the high school reunion finally arrives, what should have been the high point of the film instead collapses into a bitter series of unbelievable confrontations. This is failure writ large.
Throughout all this mess, Black, to his credit, arises from the muck unscathed. Aside from voicing Kung Fu Panda numerous times in the last few years, The D Train is Black’s return to edgy comedy, extending his reach for comic frontiers that began with Bernie, a film that should have netted Black an Oscar nomination. Sadly, Black is done in by the amateurism and churlishness of Paul/Mogel. What remains is an ill-tempered diatribe that gives viewers (as Dan remarks to Oliver at one point in the film), “A gift that they will remember for the rest of their pathetic lives.” As one of those viewers, I say, “Please keep this gift. My life is pathetic enough already.”