‘The D Train’: Jack Black out of whack as a sad sack

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Nothing about “The D Train” feels the least bit authentic, and worse, little about it is funny.

That’s a deadly recipe for a dark comedy.

Jack Black, who can be deeply effective given the right material (as in the overlooked “Bernie”), gives an uninspired, irritating, heavy-on-the-mugging performance as the thoroughly unlikable and possibly mentally unbalanced Dan Landsman, a sad sack who seems deeply unhappy, despite the fact he has a decent job at a consulting firm, an attractive and devoted wife (Kathryn Hahn) and a teenage son (Russell Posner) who looks up to his pops, against all reason.

About that consulting job. Dan works at a firm in Pittsburgh helmed by Jeffrey Tambor’s Bill, a quiet, charisma-free fellow who uses a rotary phone, has never used the Internet and believes computers and cell phones are “toys.” Who are they consulting — clients interested in learning how to get mired in the past?

Dan is the self-appointed head of the high school reunion committee, which consists of about a half-dozen other wallflowers heavy on the nerd factor. They were all pretty much invisible in high school, which makes you wonder why they’d spend so much time planning their 20th reunion and calling former classmates to beg them to attend.

Late one night, Dan is watching TV when he recognizes one Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) in a cheesy commercial for suntan lotion. Oliver was THE man back in high school, and even though Dan hasn’t seen Oliver on a single TV show or in a movie for 20 years, he’s instantly convinced Dan is a big-deal star in Hollywood, based on this one late-night TV spot.

Dan’s an idiot. Also, use Google, Dan.

With a stalker-esque intensity, Dan concocts a scheme that will bring him to Los Angeles under the pretense of a business trip, so he can track down Oliver and persuade him to attend the reunion. In Dan’s fantasy, this will make him the envy of his classmates and validate his very being.

Marsden gives a strong performance and looks every inch the handsome thirtysomething hipster actor/jerk, from the plethora of leather wristbands to the carefully unshaven look to the sunglasses to the constant smoking. It’s immediately evident Oliver is far from a success, but Dan is so blinded by the IDEA of Oliver, he’s starstuck to the point of groupie-like behavior, from indulging in hardcore drug use with Oliver to submitting to a night of debauchery so bizarre I was convinced it eventually would be revealed as a hallucinogenic dream.

No such luck.

The script by Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul (who also co-directed) certainly doesn’t pull punches, but the shock value seems forced, and the more we get to know Dan, the more odious he becomes. Dan betrays his wife and his boss, two likable and loyal people who deserve better. When Dan’s son turns to him for help, Dan lashes out at the poor kid. (This leads to a creepy subplot in which Oliver winds up advising Dan’s 15-year-old son on the logistics of participating in a threesome.)

When Dan returns to Pittsburgh, he’s mortified by his behavior in Los Angeles and he tries to persuade Oliver NOT to attend the reunion, for fear his secrets will be exposed. But once Oliver does show up, Dan instantly falls under Oliver’s spell and acts like a lovestruck teenager around this shallow never-was of an actor.

Dan’s classmates seem equally oblivious to the fact Oliver isn’t a success at all. Nobody bothers to ask what Oliver’s been up to the past 20 years. They all just think he’s cool because he was cool when they were 17.

Kathryn Hahn is wasted as Dan’s wife, who inexplicably stays with Dan even after she learns of all his egregious acts of betrayal. Jeffrey Tambor gives a curiously muted performance as the hapless Bill. Dermot Mulroney appears as himself. Who knows why.

And front and center is Jack Black as Dan Landsman, borderline sociopath and the death of the party.

[s3r star=1/4]

IFC Filmspresents a film written and directed by Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel. Running time: 98minutes. Rated R (for strong sexual material, nudity, language and drug use. Opens Friday at local theaters.

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