Roger Ebert used to lament, quite often, about the lame, single digit IQ level of your typical family film. He wondered why parents and the wee ones they've fostered would acquiesce to such mindless drek, allowing it to substitute for real entertainment (even if it is geared toward an underage crowd). The answer, of course, is simple - most mainstream moviemaking is pretty dreadful. Goodness is a fluke and greatness is an outright miracle. Why should children get a mediocrity exemption? If Mommy and Daddy have to suffer through half-baked dramas, unfunny comedies, and suspense-less thrillers, why should the bratlings get something better? Daddy Day Care suggests that, far from pandering to its proposed demographic, the new post-modern family fiasco wants to replace corporeal punishment as a form of child abuse. Only problem is, movies like these are twice as painful.
After successfully masterminding the Daddy Day Care brand name, Charlie Hinton is looking for his next big challenge - and it comes when his now seven year old son wants to go to summer camp. Mom thinks that little Ben should go to the swanky Camp Canola. But Charlie remembers his days at neighboring Camp Driftwood with a combination of nostalgia and nausea. After seeing the uptight kiddie resort and meeting old nemesis/Canola owner Lance Warner, Hinton opts for his old haunt - and finds it tipping on the brink of foreclosure. Thinking that lightning can strike twice, Charlie and buddy Phil buy into Driftwood. Soon, the bank is looking to take it away - unless they can show a profit. After an inauspicious start, our guys are left high and dry with only a handful of hopeless dweebs as their customers. But with his military father's help, and an upcoming camp to camp Olympiad, Hinton hopes to make this Daddy Day Camp work.
It's either the eeriest case of indirect actor karma ever recorded or a really retarded kiddie film. It stands in sharp contrast to other garbage efforts from 2007, yet can't claim the crown of the year's yuckiest. In fact, the performer who launched this so called 'franchise' took that claim to fame with his own nauseating Norbit. Indeed, the Eddie Murphy Stain, as we will refer to it in the future, permeates everything about this joyless, soulless romp. All that's missing is the reanimated corpse of Jim Varney and a sappy ballad about rain, and this would be Ernest Goes to Camp - except without all that former effort's wit, style, and cinematic staying power. While one imagines that post-modern stars should know better than to lower themselves for this kind of career killing paycheck, Cuba Gooding Jr. is in pure "show me the money...ANY money" mode. Here's hoping he brought his Jerry Maguire-inspired Oscar along to wow the wee ones. It's the only thing that gilded albatross is good for nowadays, right Louis Gossett, Jr.?
It's hard to say where this attempted comedy stumbles. It could be in giving Fred "Wonder Years" Savage the helm of a major motion picture. While he's done a great deal of Nickelodeon oriented TV, trying to meter out big screen laughs is clearly beyond his skill level. Then there's the casting. Aside from the aforementioned Best Supporting Actor of 1996, there is a ragtag group of no name thesps who bring the usual blank as a fart believability to their roles. That includes the 'who?' of Richard Grant, the 'huh?' of Paul Rae, and the 'why?' of Tamala Jones. Add in the mélange of bratlings, rejects from the recent auditions for The Bad News Bears Go Inbred and the pathetic picture is almost complete. Of course, one can't forget the main villain, an egotistical butthead running the competing camp played by Wayans' and bad movie favorite Lochlyn Munro. His ra-ra competitiveness would be immensely irritating if it wasn't for the fact that he appears to have been typecast. As it stands, it's like a deadly case of Method madness.
With six writers listed between story and screenplay credits, and an overreliance on the standard "safe" levels of toilet humor (gurgling commodes, pee-filled water balloons, polite blasts of rectal gas) Daddy Day Camp is a film forged directly out of a seven year olds favorite joke book. The slapstick is undeniably simplistic, and there's not a sophisticated quip in the house. Savage isn't an inherently awful director, but he doesn't have the vision or skill to make chicken offal into Shrimp Louie. In fact, one could see him rising above this horror to make a name for himself in genial family fare. No, the real problem with this film is its total lack of entertainment value. At least when old Mr. Worrell was working in celluloid, he had a few massively overdone facial gestures to get us through the rough spots. But no amount of mugging could save this unfunny flop. As the Murphy Stain continues to claim victims (next up - the beloved Beverly Hills Cop?), Gooding Jr. can always hope for Radio 2. Unless you can't find another mind melting cinematic babysitter during your next trip to Lackluster Video, skip this sludge. No child is bad enough to warrant this sort of chastisement.
Offered in a colorful, crisp, and rather ordinary 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Daddy Day Camp doesn't look that bad. Savage's eye is a little lax, and he doesn't have a great sense of composition or artistic framing. But if all you require in a film is a visible image that stays in focus, this DVD will satisfy your discerning demands.
Again, this is a bland presentation at best. Even with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix to contend with Daddy Day Camp utilizes very little of its overall aural setup. The back speakers only come alive during a couple of action scenes (including one musical montage) and the last act arrival of the Jackson Five hit "ABC". Otherwise, the dialogue is discernible and the clear.
There are only two offered (aside from the standard pre-menu trailers), and oddly enough, they are linked. First up is a Behind the Scenes EPK entitled "How I Spent My Summer - Making Daddy Day Camp". It's mindless fluff with everyone congratulating Cuba on winning an Oscar, how cool it is to get messy, and how clever a bunch of preteen actors really are. There is really nothing insightful or informative. Then, a remote driven quiz called "What I Learned at Camp" has you responding to questions based on the bonus feature. No, honestly.
Ridiculing something like Daddy Day Camp is dead easy. It's like shooting the proverbial fish in a barrel except you also have the help of some heavily armed carp as part of the gunplay. No one blames Gooding Jr. for cashing in on his one time talent, and everyone else is more than happy to get SAG credit for going along with it. Easily earning a solid Skip It, there is no need for anyone - pubescent or pre - to experience this absurd sequel. One of the first film's selling points was the notion of seeing a wise-ass Eddie Murphy dealing directly with babies - biological props that provide their own inherent biological function humor. Updating the idea doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but neither does recasting every major character the second time around. To call Daddy Day Camp pointless argues that, in some surreal universe, it might actually have had one. A better term is 'needless'. Or 'worthless'. Or just plain dumb.