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  1. Arts & Entertainment

Review: 'The D-Train' brings awkward Jack Black, James Marsden bromance

Jeffrey Tambor and Jack Black in “The D Train.”
Published May 6, 2015

A man crush weighs heavily on a desperate schlub in The D-Train, a bromantic comedy of sorts, tweaking one of the genre's tasteless tenets.

The schlub in question is Dan Landsman, a chronic nobody and self-appointed chairman of his high school reunion committee. Dan was never part of any clique, and none will change that now. Even his wife and son are awkward relationships.

Dan is a loser, until remeeting the man of dreams he never knew he had.

Since Dan is portrayed by rambunctious Jack Black, it's easy to assume where The D-Train is heading. The go-to gag for any modern farce featuring two or more bonding males is the sodomy joke, either a sexual act, threat or prevention of such. Without it, Get Hard and This is the End practically wouldn't exist. Seth Rogen might not have a career.

The D-Train is bolder, wiser about Dan's sexual confusion after a one-night stand with Oliver Lawless, a classmate and struggling actor in L.A., whose appearance in a Banana Boat sunscreen commercial makes him the most desirable "get" for the reunion. Oliver is played by James Marsden, a handsome actor firmly in touch with his pansexual character's inner ugliness. Dan's obsession isn't based on sex, rather an imagined cult of personality that Oliver hasn't earned, which might rub off on him.

Black's performance is the key to making The D-Train more than just another sophomoric bromance. The wild-eyed mania is still evident, but channeled through a filter of pity. The movie's title is one example of the cool nicknames Dan ascribes to himself, causing eyes to roll. At home, Dan's advice to his son (Russell Posner) about dating is infected by a lifetime of rejection. As with 2011's Bernie and The Big Year, Black nicely blends his garrulous persona into the character's sadness, turning pushy into something poignant.

Writers-directors Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul smartly follow the ripple effects of Dan's transgression on his duped employer and increasingly suspicious wife, played respectively by Jeffrey Tambor and Kathryn Hahn, whose names in movie credits usually ensure something to like. The inclusion of Mike White as one of Dan's exasperated classmates is a reminder of similar themes explored in his breakout screenplay for 2000's Chuck & Buck.

Some of the filmmakers' moves are dubious, such as so much attention being paid to the son's sexual experimentation, and a midsection flabbier than Dan's. Rewards aren't always commiserate with the risks The D-Train takes; the last time two movie stars went this unorthodox route was 2009's excellent I Love You, Phillip Morris with Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor as gay lovers, which barely got released. Go figure.

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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