A 20-year high school reunion provides the backdrop for "The D Train," starring Jack Black as once and current nerd Dan Landsman. As the reunion chairman, Dan is obsessed with getting popular alum Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), now a Hollywood actor, to come back to Pittsburgh and make the event a success. With a nostalgic soundtrack of 1980s nuggets -- Erasure and INXS, plus a new song co-written by OMD's Andy McCluskey -- "The D Train" would seem to be fairly familiar territory.
Boy, are you in for a surprise. Written and directed by Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel, "The D Train" begins as a fairly standard comedy about revisiting the past and making peace with the present. About 20 minutes in, however, it takes an unexpected turn. The moment comes in a Los Angeles bar where Dan is admiring Oliver's way with the girls. "And guys," Oliver says.
That's an unusual dimension to what seems like a stock character, and -- spoiler alert -- it sets the stage for a brief but graphic encounter between Dan and Oliver. It's played for laughs, but it also resonates throughout the remainder of the film. When Oliver arrives in Pittsburgh for the reunion, Dan worries that his wife (a very good Kathryn Hahn) will discover his secret.
With its running theme of gay shame, "The D Train" bears a resemblance to 2000's "Chuck & Buck" (whose writer and star, Mike White, has a small role here). That theme gets lost, however, in a muddle of extraneous subplots -- including a sitcom-style ruse involving Dan's boss (Jeffrey Tambor) -- and poorly drawn characters. Marsden's Oliver comes off as a little too sleazy, while Black's Dan has an unattractive desperate streak. Their connection, let alone their attraction, isn't believable; it's a contrivance that allows the movie to deliver its shocker.
The trailer for "The D Train" doesn't mention homosexuality at all, which proves how strong the taboo still is. "The D Train" may be a scant and rather unconvincing comedy, but it deserves credit for taking a risk.