Class acts

Just wait until the 30-year reunion.

Just wait until the 30-year reunion.

Rated 3.0

In The D Train, Dan Landsman (Jack Black) is the kind of guy who makes up nicknames for himself— D Rock, D Money, D Fresh—and claims that they’re what everybody called him 20 years ago in high school. He calls himself the chairman of his class alumni committee while the other members insist there is no chairman. (“Then how come I’m the only one with the administrator password to the Facebook page?” “Because you set it up and you won’t give it to anyone.”) After an evening in the school library calling former classmates in a vain effort to get them to come to their 20-year reunion, when Dan suggests they all grab a beer, the others beg off—then Dan drives by the neighborhood bar to see them going in without him. When his wife Stacey (Kathryn Hahn) asks him at dinner if they did it to him again, he tells her no. When his son Zach (Russell Posner) mentions a girl at school who friends say sort of likes him, Dan warns him that the girl may be lying, playing a prank so everybody can laugh at him. “I’m just trying to prepare him for certain realities of high school.”

Dan Landsman is a loser, and he knows it, and he pretends he doesn’t.

One night on TV Dan sees a commercial for Banana Boat sunscreen. In the commercial, playing a beach lifeguard and extolling the virtues of Banana Boat, is none other than Dan’s old classmate Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), the most popular guy in their graduating class. With his usual flailing exuberance, Dan decides this is the way to save their floundering reunion: get Oliver, a “big star” now, to agree to come and all those “no” RSVPs will flip to “yes.”

Dan trumps up an excuse for a business trip from Pittsburgh, where he lives, out to Los Angeles. But he oversells the idea to the point where his boss Bill (Jeffrey Tambor) insists on coming along. Dan’s web grows more tangled by the hour, as he has to placate Bill’s expectations about a nonexistent business opportunity while pursuing a full-court press to get Oliver Lawless to come to the reunion.

What doesn’t seem to occur to Dan is that Oliver, 20 years out of high school and nothing to show for it but a measly sunscreen commercial, may be just as big a loser as he is. It doesn’t occur because, in his sweaty heart of hearts, Dan knows that nobody is that big a loser.

Dan manages to hook up with Oliver—in every sense of the term. After a wild couple of nights of pot, coke and barhopping, the two men fall into a frantic round of uninhibited sex. In the wake of that, Dan experiences an attack of what a less-enlightened age might have termed homosexual panic (“I’m not gay!”). But as reunion weekend arrives and Oliver flies into Pittsburgh for the big event, Dan is torn and fidgety, and he finds himself behaving exactly like a jealous lover.

The D Train is written and directed by the team of Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, and their script often crackles with wickedly clever, even at times uncomfortable, insights into those lives of quiet desperation Thoreau said most men live—desperation which, in Dan’s case, can get pretty damn noisy. At other times, false notes crop up in the concerto; the subplot involving Dan’s son Zach and his new girlfriend (Danielle Greenup) seems to have been written by someone who’s spent more time watching Superbad than observing real teenagers.

At bottom, both Dan and Oliver are intensely dislikeable. For Dan, there’s no lie he won’t tell, and nobody he won’t tell it to—wife, boss or son—to maintain a facade of importance that nobody else believes in the first place. Oliver is marginally more self-aware (“Do you ever feel like you’re just lyin’ to yourself?” he asks. “When you lie to yourself you lie to the whole world, and that’s a shitheady thing to carry around.”), but he’s just as much a poseur, accosting Dermot Mulroney (in a cameo as himself) in a bar so he can pretend to Dan that he knows him. Mogel and Paul can thank movie kismet that they have Black and Marsden to play these two losers. Both actors have a core of likeability that makes us root for them even as we cringe, hoping they’ll learn their respective lessons and come out better men by the time the credits roll.