The D Train might sound like a hilarious ride with Jack Black and James Marsden acting as our comedic conductors, but I assure you, this Jarrad Paul/Andrew Mogel joint finds very few laughs despite Black’s constant attempt to earn a righteous nickname. What’s being marketed as a mid-life-crisis bro-comedy (BROmedy?) is more an examination of our dangerous desire to be popular and relevant, an empty wish that turns darker with every unanswered voicemail or ignored text.
There’s a message here, one about short-sighted obsessions and false idolization, but it’s so inconsequentially slight when stacked against The D‘s more bleak, relentlessly abusive themes. This is a movie about doing ANYTHING to be cool, but it’s far stranger – and more disheartening – than it has any right to be.
Blacks plays a number-cruncher named Dan Landsman; your typical all-American who graduated high school, snagged a desk job, and married a classmate without ever escaping that home-town collective. Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) is the anti-Dan Landsman, setting his sights on becoming a big Hollywood star after coasting his way through a life more ordinary. Fast-forward twenty years after graduation to Dan’s ferocious class reunion planning, which has hit a wall of uninterested from most prospective attendees. That’s when a lightbulb goes off. After seeing Oliver’s face on a Banana Boat TV commercial, Dan makes it his mission to convince the now “famous” actor to RSVP “Yes” in hopes that others will then follow.
SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW FOR THE REMAINDER
This is where things get weird. While Dan and Oliver are having a wild night out in LA filled with cocaine and Dermot Mulroney encounters, things take a rather intimate turn. At one point, Oliver drops that he’s bi-sexual (well, he’d rather not be labeled), and Dan shrugs the news off as a progressive actor’s lifestyle choice. But when they return to Oliver’s apartment, things get real. Oliver grabs his portly school chum and starts locking lips – something Dan rolls with it. In this single moment, The D Train becomes a film we never saw coming, while simultaneously derailing itself in a shocking, confusing manner. Dan, so caught up in holding Oliver on this God-like alter, actually lets the nobody sunscreen-peddler sodomize him without any regard for his family.
What, the Hell.
From here, The D Train turns into an awkward romantic drama without any heartfelt connectivity. Jack Black transforms from a wannabe cool guy who stammers on phone calls while trying to come up with hip, rad phrases that today’s youths think are hella dope, to a jealous, jilted lover who blubbers his way through even more annoying conversations laced with the coolness factor of an undercover cop. Black is a damn fine comedian, but his turn as D Money (or whatever lame nickname he gives himself at the time) is a one-note joke that’s vapidly transparent, and it only worsens once Marsden enters the picture.
To Marsden’s credit, he’s got the whole plastic-California-coolness down pat, complete with a total disregard for human emotion, but his character’s actions towards Dan are downright cruel. And they’re supposed to be, I get that, but the repugnant insincerity of Oliver Lawless ruins whatever comedy might be found in this otherwise ludicrous odd-couple scenario.
There are a few shining moments where Marsden basks in all his douchey glory, like when he teaches Dan’s son how to properly stack and rinse off lawn chairs (a metaphor for proper threesome execution), but other than that, Lawless is another clichéd free spirit without a single iota of respect shown towards anyone else. Marsden is an extremely talented funnyman (re: Sex Drive/Enchanted/countless other films), but The D Train offers him no depth or intrigue – just another “mysterious” beefcake wearing a see-through disguise.
In the end, everyone gets the kick in the ass they need. Both Dan and Oliver use people for their own comfort, screw friends over for their own benefit, and prove to be pretty abhorrent examples of society, but this just permits each character to start over in true Hollywood fashion. Oliver uses Dan’s misguided adoration as a chance to fill the empty void his deflated acting career creates, while Dan uses his trusting boss (Jeffrey Tambor) for his own popularity. Dan isn’t even a “blip” on Oliver’s radar, yet he’s willing to sink a company, ruin his relationship, and painfully neglect his son for a mere minute of Oliver’s attention. Honestly, it’s a constant struggle to root for Dan in the end, who ends up being even more immature than his own high-school-aged son who gets offered a threesome as his first sexual encounter.
The D Train is an unfortunate misfire that’s stuck between moments of innocent goofball antics and huge life-shattering explosions (Tambor’s scene where he finds out Black lied to him), all of which mix together like oil and water. Dan is a role that’s crafted for Jack Black, but sometimes we don’t benefit from too much of a good thing. Black’s incessant nudging and frustrating ignorance of his life’s unmeasurable beauty is barely worth such a disenchanting journey, and his redemption is lazily punctuated by the knowledge that everyone is going to be A-OK. I mean, two men only toyed with other people’s lives for a brief few days in the sickest, most manipulative of ways – no big deal.
The D Train is one hell of a ride - a bleak, audacious ride that makes itself harder and harder to like with each gut-punch of insincerity.