It’s been a long time since we’ve heard or seen anything from Jack Black. Considering that he’s famous mostly for scat singing (loudly scat singing, I might add) and exposing his very ample stomach, that’s no small feat. But ever since the twin flops of Year One and Gulliver’s Travels – flops that occurred four and five years ago, respectively – there hasn’t been much mainstream Black for public consumption.
That might change, however, with The D-Train. The Hollywood Reporter has Black set to star in the upcoming comedy, where he would play a lonely doofus still longing for the acceptance of his high school peers who also happens to be the chairman of his twenty-year high school reunion. The film will find Black’s character traveling from Middle America to Hollywood to convince the most popular kid in school, who’s now a washed-up commercial actor, to come home for the big celebration.
James Marsden is attached to play the former cool kid, while Mike White will play Black’s one friend from his high school days. Nat Faxon is also joining the film in an unknown role. The premise, on its own, doesn’t sound too remarkable. Add in first-time directors Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel, whose previous credits include the screenplay for Jim Carrey’s Yes Man and the short-lived animated series Allen Gregory, and things begin to look a little dire for The D-Train.
Yet it’s not all bad. In a strange sort of sense, The D-Train, an otherwise unremarkable-sounding Jack Black vehicle, exists in a weird contradictory universe where it could potentially be both really great and also really terrible. In one corner lie two directors known only for aggressively awful work, and a premise that seems plucked from Black’s early days of Envy and Shallow Hal. Marsden is tall and handsome and ideal on the outside, yet broken and squishy on the inside. Black is the opposite, with a squishy exterior but a noble heart. Add a dash of stereotypical Hollywood phoniness and let the fish-out-of-water hijinx ensue.
But when looking at The D-Train from another angle, it sounds terrific. A “low-budget indie” that reunites Jack Black and Mike White (who’s also producing), who previously turned School of Rock into the best damn thing Black’s ever done. A film that comes after a period of Jack Black doing what’s best for Jack Black: independent video games (Broken Age), an HBO pilot that just merited a full series order (The Brink), and a film where he stretches himself to new heights and nails a legitimate, dramatic performance (Bernie). In the four years Gulliver’s Travels, Black hasn’t touched a single project of ill repute. It’s from this angle The D-Train actually sounds like a promising little comedy.
Once the first trailer for The D-Train hits the internet, we’ll all know whether this is the latest step towards a Jack Black comeback or another faceplant into something like Envy. In the right circumstances (those circumstances being School of Rock), Black can be an undeniably charming actor. In the wrong circumstances, he’s all sound and fury and exposed flab, signifying nothing except a lot of exposed flab. Hopefully the presence of Mike White and Nat Faxon, himself an Oscar-winning screenwriter, can push The D-Train in the right direction. At the very least they could pick a better title than The D-Train.