Look, look...I love the concept of Big Momma's House 2, but does it have to be PG-13? Rebound looked hysterical, but that's still PG and just a little too edgy for me. What I want...no, scratch that...what I need...is Martin Lawrence in a G-rated family comedy. Hey, while I'm reaching for the stars, if Disney really wanted to win me over, they'd throw in a hypercaffeinated, chess-playing CGI pig swinging around on a chandelier, a swordfight with golf clubs on a couple of carts, an intense Law and Order-ish trial with the big, bad wolf up for destruction of private property, a busful of Japanese tourists belting out karaoke, a pint-sized science nerd drinking OJ out of a beaker...
Wait: they did that already? And I can watch it in high definition on a shiny, newly-minted Blu-ray disc? Tell you what: make it as bland as you can, drench it in sappy, artificial sentimentality, prop up the slapstick with a couple hundred thousand bug-eyed spit takes, toss in a gaggle of alums from a bunch of different Disney Channel shows, and I'll fork over my credit card right...now.
Martin Lawrence stars as James Porter, a small-town police chief who's been eyeing Northwestern for his daughter's education (Raven-Symone) ever since her mom first squirted her out. The overprotective pop wants to keep Melanie close to home, but she has her heart set on Georgetown, and she's able to score an interview to bump her way out of the waiting list. Thing is...? She's gotta be there in three days. Melanie was planning on tagging along with a couple of pals (Brenda Song and...hey, Even Stevens' Margo Harshman!) who were heading out that way anyway, but the Chief more or less forces her to ride shotgun with him...all part of a combo daddy-daughter-bonding-time and keep-the-kid-on-a-short-leash ploy. But hey, it's a road trip movie, so the whole thing's kind of a disaster: a pint-sized science whiz and his genetically engineered super-pig stowaway, a flaky GPS sends their SUV, uh, off the beaten path, they're saddled with a more wholesome, hyperperky father-daughter pairing (with Donny Osmond playing the proud pop), tasers, a crashed wedding, skydiving, cheery family bonds that are formed and then shoved in a blender on purée...it's a whole thing.
So, yeah. This is pretty much the Daddy Day Camp III of road trip movies. I'll 'fess up to laughing a couple of times -- there's a kind of clever gag at Northwestern where James has peppered the campus with ringers, including a bit with an eyepatch that had me howling a lot more loudly than I think I'd like to admit -- but way too much of the comedy is bland, lifeless, lazy slapstick punctuated by wide-eyed, rubber-faced reaction shots. Martin Lawrence doesn't take to G-rated comedy all that well, not that he's really given much of anything to work with. Nope, it's Donny Osmond that winds up running away with every scene he's in as a proud and an almost disturbingly cheery father. In between are lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of teary-eyed speeches about learning to let go and respect mostly-grown-up kids as adults. College Road Trip is a kids' movie trying to pass itself off as a family comedy. Might be okay for an eight year old who hasn't watched all that many movies and wants to see his-slash-her favorite Disney stars all together in one movie, but otherwise...? You could do a lot better than this. Rent It.
Video: College Road Trip looks slick in high-def: sharp, crisp, really colorful, bolstered by some punchy black levels...pretty much exactly what you'd hope for from a comedy just a couple months out of theaters. The scope image is richly detailed, and film grain remains tight and unintrusive even in the most dimly-lit scenes. I couldn't spot any hiccups at all...just a really great looking Blu-ray disc.
Audio: College Road Trip sports a 24-bit, 48 kHz PCM soundtrack. It's kind of a traditional comedy mix -- y'know, dialogue front and center, light ambiance in the rears, and...yeah, I guess that sums it up -- but the track really roars to life when the music kicks in. The score by Ed Shearmur is rendered wonderfully -- just warm and full-bodied -- and the bigger musical numbers are reinforced nicely in the surrounds and pack a big, beefy low-end. The movie also snags a couple bonus points for setting one scene near the climax to my favorite ELO song. College Road Trip is backed by kind of an ordinary soundtrack, but it's all tackled pretty well.
Disney's also tossed on Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English and French along with subtitles in English (SDH), French, and Spanish.
Extras: College Road Trip piles on two audio commentaries. First up is a track with director Roger Kumble and Raven-Symone, and even though I'm not the world's biggest fan of the movie itself, I kinda dug the commentary. It's just upbeat and backed by a really self-deprecatory sense of humor. Kumble can't help but poke fun at himself: after a pint-sized version of Raven's character says "I love you, Daddy" in an old home video, the director quips "that's what's called 'manipulative filmmaking'." A little while later...? "I only have one direction: over-the-top." The whole commentary plays like that. Raven just kind leans back and laughs, but the two of 'em make for a pretty fun listen. Some of the highlights I scribbled down include Kumble repeatedly calling Raven back in to re-re-re-re-re-re-record her screaming at the top of her lungs, Raven cracking up when she spots Kumble's head pop up in the backseat of the car, and the director trying to use Boogie Nights as a rationale not to have Japanese tourists sing "Sister Christian".
There are some okay notes early on in the commmentary with writers Emi Mochizuki and Carrie Evans -- the movie being anchored around different colleges, Trey originally being twins eagerly picking out potential moms for his divorced pop, a Disney mandate for cute little animal sidekicks -- but the whole thing kind of plays like a feature-length "Delicious Dish". They spend most of the track quietly watching the movie, snickering, and half-whispering "uh-oh" or "that's funny". The two of 'em would've been better off being interviewed inside of recording a full-length commentary.
"Raven's Video Diary" (10 min.) follows the actress as she darts around the set with a camcorder, so...she's being videotaped while videotaping interviews with a gaggle of other actors and the movie's director, scoring soundbites about how much fun the shoot is in between reams of giddy narration.
Roger Kumble chimes in with optional audio commentary for fifteen minutes' worth of deleted scenes, including an alternate teary-eyed scene at the airport, a different intro with Vincent Pastore trying to knock over a bank and a scene with the Sopranos alum being interrogated, a mock-slasher bit with a slapsticky tag, and more with the mobster meanies throwing the wedding that the super-pig Albert busts up. Oh, and speaking of Albert, he also scores a piggy flashback that wound up making kids cry in test screenings, and he's the centerpiece of three alternate endings. There's also a three minute gag reel with the usual uncontrollable fits o' laughter, flubbed lines, mock-dancing...you know how we do. All of this extra footage is in high-def.
Raven pops up with Donnie Osmond in a music video for "Double Dutch Bus". That's the only standard definition extra in the set, but to make up for it, there's an HD look at the making of the video that clocks in at three and a half minutes in length. A big stack of trailers and promo reels round out the whole thing.
Conclusion: College Road Trip is a Disney Channel Original Movie with a defanged Martin Lawrence in the lead: eighty-something minutes of room temperature slapstick, bug-eyed mugging to the camera, and clunky, heavy-handed zaniness. I mean...College Road Trip is tolerable, and I might even admit to cracking up a couple of times, but this is a bland family comedy really aimed towards kids in the single digits. Unless your tykes are big, big Raven fans, there are much better family comedies out there. Rent It.
The usual image disclaimer: the photos scattered around this review are promotional stills and don't necessarily represent the presentation on this Blu-ray disc.