Everybody wants to be popular. Of course, it usually turns out the harder you try to be liked, the more unlikable you become. Such is the case for Dan Landsman (Jack Black), a guy who never climbed above the lowest social rungs in high school.
Dan is the head of an alumni committee that is organizing its 20-year high school reunion. Dan spots his moment of glory when he sees high-school hero Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) starring in a national sunscreen commercial.
Dan figures if he can convince Oliver to attend the reunion he will, by proxy, be praised and adored by his former classmates.
This is the promising setup for the movie “The D Train,” which unfortunately falls into the trap of being unable to decide if it is a comedy or a dramedy and then ultimately fails at being either.
It is too bad because this is a daring movie with a tremendous cast and it plays with some interesting ideas about identity and social perceptions. But like the proverbial dog that catches the car, when this movie gets all the pieces in place it has no idea what to do with them.
Dan concocts a plan to go to California to make his pitch to Oliver in person. He invents a potential business deal on the West Coast to hide the true intentions for his trip from his boss Bill (the great Jeffrey Tambor) and his wife Stacey (the equally great Kathryn Hahn).
Later in the movie when he is found out, Bill asks Dan “Why didn’t you just buy a plane ticket, lie to your wife and leave me out of it?” This is probably the most painfully self-aware a movie has ever been about ridiculous plot contrivances.
Once in L.A., Dan and Oliver meet up and are each charged up by the encounter. Dan is thrilled just to be hanging out with the cool kid and Oliver loves the praises Dan heaps on him as it is immediately clear Oliver is a struggling nobody.
A night of wild partying leads to some surprising complications and, when Oliver agrees to come back home for the reunion, Dan realizes he has bitten off more than he can chew.
There are a lot of swings and misses in this movie as writer/directors Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul just can’t find the right tone. They clearly want this movie to be funny, but with such emotionally flawed characters, you wind up feeling sorry for them more than anything else. Pity doesn’t usually evoke a ton of laughs.
So what are we left with? In the end, “The D Train” isn’t much more than an admirable failure. Is that better than being a total failure? Sure, but it’s also kind of like being the guy who peaked in high school.
“The D Train” is rated R for strong sexual material, nudity, language, and drug use.