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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Daddy Day Camp

When the trailer for Daddy Day Camp first appeared about a month ago the first thing it touted on-screen was that it was “From the same producers of Daddy Day Care!” Well, the ads are true, I’ll give them that. Eight (!) producers from Daddy Day Care are on board to oversee the production of this movie. Eight. It’s hard to imagine it took eight “bosses” to keep this little production on track, but, then again, consider the Producers:

There’s Matt Berenson (Let’s Go to Prison), John Davis (Norbit), Chris Emerson (Falling Words), Adam F. Goldberg (Night Watch 2), Richard Hull (American Psycho II: All American Girl), Nancy Kirhoffer (I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer), Jefferson Richard (Say It in Russian), William Sherak (The Messengers) and Jason Shuman (Darkness Falls). With credits like these amongst them maybe it does make sense in a weird sort of way. It’s like putting Stevie Wonder, Andrea Bocelli, and Jose Felliciano in charge of judging an oil painting competition. At least it distracts the viewer of the obvious fact that none of the originals stars have come on board for the sequel. Not a single one. Eddie Murphy? Too busy with his current paternity suit? Jeff Garlin? Too busy executive producing "Curb Your Enthusiasm" for HBO? Regina King? Wanted to be paid more than mere "hooker" money this time around?

The truth is Daddy Day Care grossed Sony Pictures Entertainment $104,148,781 in its original US theatrical run, not bad for a film that was budgeted at $60 million and expected to barely break
even. Figure in still on-going video sales and rentals and it is a regular cash cow. Nobody can deny that. So it was only natural for the studio to want to milk the thing again. Unfortunately, what they’ve grabbed onto with Daddy Day Camp isn’t the same cow. It’s more like Rosie O’Donnell. She’s often mistaken for a cow, but she’s a lot louder, messier, and more difficult to understand and appreciate than your average heifer. The same can be said of Daddy Day Camp.

Daddy Day Camp is actually less a sequel to the original than an offshoot. While the “main” grown-up characters remain the same, though with different actors, the story is much less about the adults working to find themselves than it is about the kids and the hell they can muster when given the chance and the right reason to do so.

The children here are a bunch of Little Rascals prototypes found in just about every kid movie from The Bad News Bears to Unaccompanied Minors. There’s the fat clumsy one (Tyger Rawlins; Wieners), the girl genius (Molly Jepson; The Last Sin Eater), the one who throws up at the mention of a teeter totter (first time actor Talon Ackerman), the little brother wise beyond his years in the ways of women (Taggart Hurtubise; The Dance), a little guy with no confidence in himself or his Dad (Spencir Bridges; Foster Babies), the love-struck nerd (newcomer Tad D'Agostino) the budding goddess (debuting Telise Galanis) and the one true athlete/delinquent (also debuting Zachary Allen). Basically they each fill a role that will be instrumental in fulfilling a plot device in the movie’s contrived plot, contrived in that it is obviously written around the mechanics of making the “gotcha” revenge story work rather than making the story’s characters believable, warm, interesting, or worth our attention.

Before you think I’ve got nothing nice to say about
Daddy Day Camp, let me just make it clear that I did find it mildly entertaining, in a mindless sort of way. It reminded me of something I’d expect to see on Nickelodeon Television on some rainy Saturday afternoon. There’s nothing particularly offensive or bad about Daddy Day Camp, it’s just that it feels about as inspiring as an episode “Happy Days” or “Welcome Back, Kotter” by the fifth or sixth year of either series. Tired, you know?

In this outing Charlie Hinton is played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. Gooding is no Eddie Murphy as a comedian and it shows. A lot. Still, he is an affable actor and a pleasant enough personality, so he seems to be playing essentially a larger-than-life version of himself. Gooding is an actor from the Mira Sorvino School of Acting. Like Sorvino (for Mighty Aphrodite in 1995), Gooding has won an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (for Jerry Maguire, 1996) and since then has gone on to star in more stinkers than not. For every Men of Honor he has three appalling piles of comic bile on his resume, things like Chill Factor, Snow Dogs, and what I consider probably the over-all worst movie of the past 25 years, Boat Trip. Maybe, just maybe, he should stick to drama. Anyway, here Charlie and his pal Phil Ryerson (Paul Rae; Next) decide to buy their childhood Day Camp after they find that the competing camp nearby is owned by a now grown-up rival of Charlie’s, someone who made his life miserable back when he was eleven. Seriously.

So these two numb-nuts buy a decaying dump of a camp because Charlie was embarrassed thirty years earlier at summer camp and now he is determined to make his camp better than Lance Warner’s (Lochlyn Munro; Hack!), who is a total dirtbag. That pretty much is the basis of the story in a nutshell.

Meanwhile, Charlie’s wife Kim (Tamala Jones; Who’s Your Caddy?) is seen only sporadically and doesn’t have much to do but shake her head and look concerned. She seems to be there just to remind us that Regina King is not in this movie and that Jones needs to get a better agent.

The only real player making us sit up and pay attention on the adult side of things is Richard Gant (currently on tv’s “General Hospital: Night Shift”), as Colonel Buck Hinton, Charlie’s father. Gant is a terrific character actor and someone you would instantly recognize by face even if you don’t know his name. He gets a chance to tear up the scenery in this role, showing both a gruff militaristic exterior and also a softer, grandfatherly side that is downright cuddly. When he comes on the scene to help Charlie and Phil save Camp Deadwood from permanent closure, the Colonel immediately becomes the darling of the kids still enrolled in the program, and his shenanigans are inspiring to them.

By the time the movie is half over the end is already a foregone conclusion, so the only thing to do
is surrender to the silliness of the two camps’ “Summer Olympiad” knowing that the “bad” campers will cheat under Lance’s guidance and the “good” campers will use their unique characteristics to overcome the scummy tactics dealt their way. Yawn. Chuckle. Yawn.

Perhaps small children who haven’t seen this type of movie before may find it entertaining, but everybody else is going to feel like they’ve been through this a hundred times before, but for free on tv reruns of every family-oriented sitcom cranked out since the 1970s. If you are going to go, make sure you get the freshly made popcorn at the
Essex Cinemas because you’re going to need something to make you feel better about your decision. At least that won’t disappoint.

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