Oh, the mugging in this thing. You would not believe how many of the actors spend all their precious screentime contorting their faces into extravagant comical positions, making sure every single audience member comprehends "College Road Trip" is supposed to be a silly movie. It's nearly 3-D in execution.
A protective father, James Porter (Martin Lawrence) is reluctant to allow his daughter Melanie (Raven-Symone) a chance to attend college at Georgetown, located over 700 miles from the family home. When Melanie is invited to speak to the admissions council at the last minute, James refuses to let the child travel with friends, taking her, son Trey (Eshaya Draper), and pet pig Albert on a road trip to help restore frayed bonds, but also to keep a close eye on his beloved daughter. It doesn't take long for the vacation to turn into a nightmare, leaving James in a permanent state of panic as he fights to keep Melanie on a leash, deal with fellow strident parents (Donny Osmond), and confront his own growing sense of empty nest syndrome.
Roger Kumble directed "College Road Trip." This is same man who created smut like "Cruel Intentions," "The Sweetest Thing," and "Just Friends," and now he's at the helm of a G-rated Disney family comedy? Perhaps that's why "College" feels so overprocessed and shrill. It's clearly the work of a man attempting to alter the course of his dying career, only to rely on ineffective instincts for a genre he should be kept away from. Kumble is bad with cute and cuddly.
However, blaming the director for the entire cringe factor of "College" is unfair. The screenplay (credited to four writers) is a hodgepodge of slapstick, melodrama, more slapstick, and "one to grow on" sentiment, piled punishingly high and rendered flavorless by the Disneyfication production process.
The cast is just as shameless, with every participant leaping about like their pants have caught fire. While I admit to enjoying Lawrence when busts out his panic button, Raven-Symone pitches her acting to the rafters, taking every horrible habit she's nurtured on the Disney Channel and splashes the big screen with her obnoxious, questionable eye-bulging and 10-chin double-takes. "College" even permits her a musical number just to loathe the performance even more.
The less said about Donny Osmond the better, though I will write that he's astonishingly well-cast as the constant annoyance of the story.
Thematically, "College" hopes to discuss the misery of parents forced to let their children become adults. It's a tender topic, yet nothing resembling a human emotion is allowed near the picture. All that's offered are repetitive scoring cues (separated into two categories: "sad" and "fall down and go boom") and saccharine, tear-jerking screenwriting that's far too coldly calculated to penetrate the ill will clotting up the rest of the picture.
While the fleshtones during the anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio) DVD presentation of "Trip" look unnatural and digitally softened, the rest of the color palette is treated nicely here. Black levels are strong throughout and image detail is terrific, consistently revealing the boundaries of Lawrence's facial make-up. A full-screen presentation is also available.
Cartoon bells and whistles keep the 5.1 Dolby Digital mix alive during the film, along with some strategic, full-bodied musical numbers. Dialogue is separated well and clearly understood. A French 2.0 track is included.
English for the Hearing Impaired, Spanish, and French subtitles are included.
Two audio commentaries buttress the "College Road Trip" DVD experience, the first featuring director Roger Kumble and actress Raven-Symone, who good-naturedly joke around while dishing out information on the making of this film. Kumble is clearly the one in control here, offering listeners plenty of anecdotes on the intricate reconfiguring of the film in the editing room, how he dealt with lively actors such as co-commentator, and his insistence that the picture remain heartwarming in the end.
The second commentary features writers Emi Mochizuki and Carrie Evans, and it's a far more sedate affair. Why a writer's commentary? I have no idea, and the ladies have little to offer the learning experience outside of obvious observations and vague mentions of working with "The Studio." It's a brutal commentary experience.
"Raven's Video Diary" (9:57) follows the actress around the set, with footage culled from her own video camera and EPK testimonials. If you can stomach the actress's energy, the featurette is quite informative about production crew roles and presents a pleasing snapshot of life on the set.
"Deleted Scenes" (12:37) mainly consist of small character moments that were rightfully cut for time and quality. A major deleted sequence is also offered, concerning a run-in with some backwoods fisherman.
"Alternate Opening/Endings" (3:36) presents several different takes on the bookend moments of the film, eventually altered to keep thematic sense and to include popular co-stars.
"Gag Reel" (2:49) is filled with moments of Donny Osmond breaking into giggle fits. Seriously, the man looks as though he had a blast making the movie.
"Double Dutch Bus" (3:16) is a music video from Raven-Symone and, well, Donny Osmond.
"On the Set: 'Double Dutch Bus'" (3:27) covers the making of the music video.
A Theatrical Trailer for "College Road Trip" has not been included on this DVD.
While the novelty of seeing Martin Lawrence trying to neuter himself to meet G-rating expectations is an undeniable curiosity, "College Road Trip" pushes too hard on the wacky moments, to a point of full sensorial meltdown. There are only so many food fights, pig-hopped-up-on-caffeine gags, and brutal Raven-Symone improv that one person can take before madness sets in.
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